Money Pit

Ten years, $200 million, and one heck of a political headache: Minneapolisís grand plan for neighborhood revitalization enters the home stretch.

Wednesday, April 28, 1999, was an impossibly bright, warm, summery day in Minneapolis. But instead of soaking up the sun outside, several hundred city residents gathered in the gymnasiumlike ambiance of the Northeast Armory off Broadway Avenue for cookies, coffee, and an acronym-laden discussion about the fate of the city's Neighborhood Revitalization Program (NRP)--the decade-old project created to move some money and decision-making power from city hall out into neighborhoods.

Brown metal church-basement folding chairs were spread across the gray concrete floor, many of them filled with residents sporting T-shirts declaring their allegiance to this or that corner of the city. Up in front sat a cluster of folks from the Whittier Alliance, all clad in goldenrod shirts and carrying homemade signs, including a hot-pink one emblazoned with: "Tree Plantings Thanks to NRP." In another section, folks from the Powderhorn Park Neighborhood Association were dressed in gray-and-blue shirts, while the Folwell contingent wore deep forest green.

The get-together, hosted by the mayor and the city council, was billed as a "community meeting" to address the program's transition into its second decade--officially, if unpoetically, dubbed "Phase II." In her opening remarks, Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton talked about having a "dialogue," and about finding ways to "maximize and leverage resources " so as to "better coordinate NRP with city goals." City council president Jackie Cherryhomes rose to give a boilerplate history of the NRP, from the blue-sky discussions of the late Eighties to the present, before ceding the stage to John Moir, the city's finance officer.

Clad in a tie and dark suit, Moir enumerated a host of financial demands on local government--more police officers, infrastructure improvements, a new library, various development efforts--to make the joyless point that there was only so much money to go around. "I'm not trying to depress people," he offered. "I'm just trying to explain some of the facts."

The remarks--and the information in the cream-colored handouts placed on every chair--hammered home a single point: The NRP had to shape up. The program had fallen short of state requirements, chiefly a mandate that more than half of the money be dedicated to housing. There would need to be rules, the officials argued, to assure that more funds went to that purpose in the program's second decade.

But the audience showed little interest in the vagaries of municipal finance or the finer points of state law. A resident from St. Anthony West defiantly summarized the feelings of many: "We don't need to beg for this money," he declared. "This is our money."

Throughout the two-hour meeting, one bearded, bespectacled guy in the middle of the room didn't say much. He wasn't seated on the dais with Sayles Belton, Cherryhomes, and Moir, and he didn't make any big, windy speeches. He sat on a folding chair; he worked the perimeter. While some of those who brushed past him likely had no idea who he was, many knew him as a savvy ally, formidable adversary, and canny negotiator. Some generals in battle wear uniforms and gold stars; this one wore a short-sleeved plaid shirt.

 

About a year after the Northeast Armory meeting, the same man arrives five minutes late for a morning meeting, sauntering casually into the NRP office with a friendly "Hey, man" and a handshake. He's wearing a Twins baseball cap, sunglasses, a blue wool scarf, and a brown leather aviator-style jacket. Necktie? Forget it.

The 52-year-old's demeanor is as common and folksy as his name: Bob Miller. His title sounds a little fancier. He is executive director of the NRP, a job he has held since 1992.

The NRP offices are located a several-block hike from city hall, and the distance is symbolic as well as geographic. "It's caught between the community on the one side and the government on the other," says Miller, "and it's not really of either. We do fit in kind of a never-never land."

Miller is not technically a city employee and he does not answer to the Minneapolis City Council. He reports to the 18-member NRP Policy Board, a body that includes representatives from five jurisdictions--the city; Hennepin County; and the school, park, and library boards--as well as members from private foundations, neighborhoods, and the state Legislature. Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton and council president Jackie Cherryhomes sit on the board; Hennepin County Commissioner Mark Stenglein succeeded Cherryhomes as chair in April.

In broader terms, Miller figures that he is accountable to some 55 different elected officials from the various jurisdictions with a stake in the program. He also deals with representatives from 66 neighborhood organizations (the city has 81 officially defined residential neighborhoods, but in the NRP process many of them work together), as well as hundreds of nonprofit agencies and business groups. And every single one them, he'll tell you, has an opinion about him. "I get criticized for just about everything that I do," Miller says. "There's no way I can satisfy everybody out there who has an idea about what I should do or how I should be doing it."

Miller's corner office on the fourth floor of the Crown Roller Mill building overlooks St. Anthony Falls, but he's put a plant in the window to obscure the view, just so folks won't think the perk has gone to his head. "People came in here and said, 'My god, this is spacious, look at this great view!' he recalls. "That's not who I am. I felt embarrassed by it." The space is cluttered in an organized sort of way: Stacks of paper appear to cover every horizontal surface, but they are neat, tidy stacks. A large, gray Rubbermaid dumpster, about half-filled with more paper, sits by the door. Not counting the large
digital watch on his wrist, there are three clocks in Miller's office: a small one mounted on a small wooden stand on his desk, and two on the wall. One is labeled "Bob's Clock" and is running a half-hour slow. It was a gift from his wife. "I'm always late," shrugs Miller.

But many say Miller has an instinct for always knowing what time it is, both politically and strategically. He's "astonished," he says with a broad, easy smile, to still hold a job after eight years. Wryly, he adds, "I don't think anybody would have bet I'd have been here that long." He works assiduously to stay out of the spotlight, preferring to operate behind the scenes. He neither courts nor trusts media attention, figuring it can't do him any good.

Miller's roots in Minneapolis neighborhoods run deep. He grew up in Powderhorn and graduated from Central High School in 1966. His father was a laborer, then a paving foreman for the city; his mother was a teacher. "My dad and my mom were both adamant that you had to contribute something to the community so that it's better off than when you started," he recalls.

Miller went to the University of Chicago, where he earned a B.A. in economics. He proceeded to work for the Veterans Administration in Washington, D.C., and Boston while earning a master's degree in hospital and health-care administration from George Washington University. By his own admission, he was busy climbing the bureaucratic career ladder.

A desire to spend more time with his wife and three kids brought him back to his home town in the Seventies. He has lived in the Fulton neighborhood in the southwest corner of the city since 1977 and helped establish a neighborhood organization there. He worked as a planning supervisor for Hennepin County and eventually headed the Community and Resource Exchange (CARE) program, a joint city-county effort aimed at encouraging neighborhood-based projects. "I've been through every type of bureaucracy you could name," he cracks. Indeed, before selecting Miller the NRP Policy Board debated whether he was too much of an insider for the experimental new program.

But Miller professes that he was already shedding his past as a bureaucrat by the time he took the program's reins. It had dawned on him, he says, that he was out of touch with the proverbial guy on the street: "A lot of the stuff that I was dealing with was removed from any kind of reality." The CARE job "radicalized" him, he says, alerted him to the notion of actually listening to what neighborhood residents had to say.

His first priority at the NRP was to cut through the process-speak and get the ball rolling. The program, he told the Star Tribune at the time, was "an administrative nightmare." He set about getting things organized, holding meetings on topics like "How do you hold a meeting?"

Today Miller doesn't have to tutor anybody on the basics. The NRP has become a system unto itself, and many of the participants have learned the game--only too well, in the view of skeptics who suggest that Miller has turned the program into a kind of shadow government.

"He's the best bureaucrat I ever met," says Joe Barisonzi, who once headed the Lyndale Neighborhood Association and now serves as CEO of an online venture called CommunityLeader.com. "And early on NRP needed a bureaucrat. Now it needs leadership.

"My biggest critique of Bob," adds Barisonzi, "is that, in classic bureaucratic form, he has tried to position himself as the arbiter between city hall and the neighborhoods. To city hall he wants to represent the neighborhoods, and to the neighborhoods he wants to represent city hall."

 

Like so many municipal projects, the NRP began with a task force, which begat--what else?--an advisory committee. In 1987 then-Mayor Don Fraser and the city council put together an ad hoc group to find ways to funnel more development money into the neighborhoods. Part of the stated motivation was the previous year's overhauling of the federal tax code, which had caused private investment in rental housing to dry up. The initial recommendation of the Neighborhood Housing and Economic Development Task Force called for some $84 million a year in spending, with the primary emphasis on housing.

By the time the city council and the state Legislature passed a law to establish the NRP, the $84 million-a-year proposal had morphed into a $20 million-a-year plan slated to last 20 years; policymakers sometimes compared it to the city's 20-year street-paving project. The state law allowed Minneapolis to undertake a complicated pooling and refinancing scheme involving several big downtown projects to fund the program.

The goals outlined in the statute were broad, and arguably impossible to measure: "The activities of [the] program must preserve and enhance within the neighborhoods private and public physical infrastructure, public health and safety, economic vitality, the sense of community, and social benefits." The law called for nine different types of projects the money could be spent on, but the emphasis was clearly on housing: The measure required that 52.5 percent of the program money be spent on "housing programs and related purposes." Though the law does not mention affordablehousing, city officials now insist that it should be a priority.

Despite the vagueness of the law, the NRP has certainly fallen short of the mark. According to the most recent city statistics, the "action plans" outlining how each neighborhood wants to spend the money allotted to it have earmarked 49 percent of the NRP's total expenditures for housing programs. Factor in administrative costs and that number drops to about 46 percent. City number crunchers don't have hard-and-fast figures about how much money has gone to affordable-housing programs, but it's clear that far more money has gone into home-improvement loans or grants than for, say, rental housing. The NRP has also funded a bevy of smaller projects ranging from ornamental street lighting to improvements in city parks and schools. (See "Where Has All the Money Gone?" sidebar at the end of page)

Some have argued that given the way the program was set up, an emphasis on homeowner-friendly projects was inevitable. A 1994 study by Ed Goetz and Mara Sidney of the University of Minnesota's Center for Urban and Regional Affairs concluded that the NRP "exacerbates the bias in citizen participation toward middle class, white, property owner participation....The organizations that emerge from the NRP process are likely to be dominated by homeowners and land entrepreneurs--even in neighborhoods that are overwhelmingly renter and significantly low-income."

For some neighborhoods the strain of balancing competing interests--and of managing the sudden influx of NRP dollars--proved too much. In 1992 the Whittier Alliance almost collapsed after a contentious board election pitted homeowners against advocates of low-income housing. Six years later the People of Phillips organization was dissolved after several audits found widespread financial mismanagement.

Miller acknowledges that handing control to neighborhoods has not always produced spectacular results. But on balance, he maintains, grassroots groups have shown themselves better able to manage a buck than the average politician.

"I've had very few projects that haven't had cost overruns when they've been done by an agency," he notes. "But you know what? I haven't had a single neighborhood--not one--come to me and ask for more money than was in their plan allocation. Not a single neighborhood has come in here and asked for more money than they were originally approved for."

"When they get a contract for $20,000," says Miller with a touch of amazement, "they treat it like it's a contract for $10 million. They work within the level of resources that they already have. That's a level of discipline that the city and other agencies could benefit from."

 

Of course, compared with the city's big development deals, the NRP doesn't have all that much money to spend. The budget for the expansion now under way at the Minneapolis Convention Center, for instance, stands at $207.7 million, almost as much as the NRP allocated citywide in its first decade. And the recently approved Block E complex includes $39.1 million in public money--enough to fund two entire years of NRP operations and programs.

Some have argued that the comparatively limited funding set the program up to fail--or at least to be perceived to have failed. While the NRP had been sold as "a panacea for urban problems," noted a 1995 study by the Center for Urban Policy Research at Rutgers University, truly making a difference would require "more than handing out a relatively meager amount of money to the neighborhoods."

Still, some of the program's founders say they're disappointed with how the program has turned out. Tony Scallon, one of the primary architects of the NRP during his tenure on the city council in the Eighties, says he envisioned the endeavor as a way to fund substantial affordable-housing projects. "I didn't know the program stood for neighborhoods rehabbing their parks," says Scallon. "That isn't the program I voted for. It's positive in the sense that middle-class people get their parks; what's negative is that we have a housing crisis."

At the moment, no one seems to know for sure whether the NRP could be punished for missing numbers outlined in the state statute. With characteristic understatement, Miller says that "it is unclear whether there is a penalty for not complying."

Ann Berget, a former member of the Minneapolis Board of Education who spent seven years on the NRP Policy Board, says the recent discussion of affordable housing reminds her of a 1995 plan pushed by Cherryhomes that would have taken $5 million a year from the NRP and directed the money to economic development projects to be overseen by the Minneapolis Community Development Agency (MCDA). Than plan died, Berget recalls, when the city realized that such a change would require the consent of all five participating jurisdictions. "I think the whole experience kind of chastened everyone," she concludes.

Berget further argues that those who criticize the NRP for not meeting its original goals are forgetting the program's history. "NRP was not designed to address citywide priorities," says Berget. "Some people now assess the program as if there was a blueprint for this whole community-building effort. There wasn't a blueprint; there was the practical equivalent of a sketch on the back of a napkin."

Moir, the city finance officer, contends that anyone who hoped that the NRP would solve the city's low-income-housing crisis was dreaming. "When you talk about the billions of dollars--I'm talking billions--we need to invest in our housing stock, NRP isn't going to make a big impact there," says Moir. "I think [the program's effect] is more psychological. If a neighborhood looks sharper and cleaner and brighter, that goes a long way towards making people feel better about the neighborhood and wanting to invest in the neighborhood."

Scallon, however, isn't satisfied. When the city set up the program, he argues, it laid down some pretty clear goals. But in the decade since, someone managed to insulate the neighborhoods from any pressure to comply. And Scallon has a pretty good idea who that was: "Bob's a great manager," he offers, "but he needs to learn to be able to set standards for the folks who are going to be getting the money. The problem came when no standards were applied."

 

Scallon is not the only current or former city hall insider who has come to regard Miller with some suspicion. Some politicians now regard the NRP director's casual demeanor as a front that masks canny strategic acumen. Miller, they mutter, has an infuriatingly effective way of politely nodding his head when the politicians talk--and then going out and doing whatever he feels like.

On February 17, city council members were seated in one of the conference rooms on city hall's third floor for their biweekly caucus meeting--an informal bull session where Minneapolis's elected representatives review issues and kibitz. Council member Lisa Goodman asked Jackie Cherryhomes whether she'd heard of some meetings scheduled in various neighborhoods for the purpose of discussing plans for Phase II. Not really, Cherryhomes replied testily: All she knew was that a few days earlier she'd gone to what she considered the official meeting on the topic at Whittier Park. Someone had handed her a flyer announcing a whole different set of get-togethers--orchestrated, of course, by Miller.

The NRP Policy Board, said Cherryhomes--who at the time served as that body's chair--had not been made aware of the gatherings. "What else is new?" she concluded, rolling her eyes. Goodman suggested that an official "letter of concern" be drafted for Miller's personnel file. It was suggested that council staffer Kent Robbins be directed to handle the matter.

But no letter ever materialized. "We opted not to do that," Cherryhomes says now, "because [Miller] works for the policy board and not the city council. I wasn't happy [but] I talked to Bob about it, and we worked it out."

Miller insists that he had no intention of blind-siding the politicians. He told the policy board that there were going to be neighborhood meetings to discuss Phase II, he contends: He didn't say when, where, and how because "I didn't know."

But it's no secret that Miller doesn't always agree with his bosses' approach to citizen participation. "The [city's] idea of having one community-wide meeting is bullshit," he says. "C'mon, that's a show." As if remembering the politics of his job, he hastens to add, "I support those kind of meetings, yes." Then he continues: "The difference between providing information and obtaining information is pretty significant."

In many ways, the dust-up about the meetings was typical of Miller's tenure. Former city council member Steve Minn calls Miller "one of the best politicians at city hall"; he also compares the NRP director to Huey Long, the populist, controversial Louisiana governor and U.S. Senator of the Twenties and Thirties whose slogan was "Every Man a King." "Every neighborhood was a king with Bob," Minn says. (Miller laughs: "I would have never thought of that one.")

Over the years, Minn adds, Miller has cultivated his own relationships with neighborhood groups, effectively cutting the politicians out of the deal. "NRP was set up with way too much autonomy for Bob," says Minn. "He set it up so that it was absolutely impossible for the council member to question their own neighborhoods."

Minn says he liked some things about the program--like the low-interest fix-up loans for homeowners--but suspects that its goals were too hazily defined. "We just weren't very careful with the money," he maintains. "We sort of told folks, 'Dream your biggest dream and we'll find a way to pay for it.' The concept was really quite brilliant--I just think the rules were too loose."

Current council member Lisa McDonald, who served on the policy board for a few years after being elected to her Tenth Ward seat in '93, dubs Miller "crazy like a fox." Explains McDonald: "I admire him, but he makes me really mad sometimes. I think he really knows how to work the system. I think he's playing both ends against the middle [so] it's really unclear as to who he's working for."

Like Minn, McDonald says Miller has keen political instincts. She says she has learned not to be deceived by his folksy exterior: "Yes, he is that guy, but he's very astute underneath that. You can't let that demeanor blind you to the fact that he's very sharp.

"He probably knows at any given time not to make anybody too mad or too happy," McDonald goes on. "He cut his teeth at the county, and he has a political background. He's got his facts and figures lined up. He's organized. He really knows his program back and forth."

Perhaps because of Miller's political savvy, even those who have clashed with him rarely couch their disagreement in anything but the politest terms. Cherryhomes will say only that "we aren't always going to agree"; she and Miller, she adds, have "a good working relationship and a good ability to work through issues."

Some of Miller's overseers on the NRP Policy Board suggest that he sometimes acts like the leader of a breakaway republic. "One of the frustrating things of his style is he pits people against each other," says Gretchen Nicholls, a board member who also serves as executive director of the Center for Neighborhoods. "I think the neighborhoods feel like they're fighting against the city, and unfortunately I don't think that helps us move forward constructively....We need to think of ourselves more as partners, rather than antagonists. I don't think Bob sees himself as a partner."

Counters Miller: "I don't really see myself as pitting the neighborhoods against the city." If politicians argue that the program's agenda should be in line with the city's, he notes, "I could argue that the city's goals should be more in line with the neighborhoods' goals."

 

Despite the grumbling about what Miller has or hasn't done, he and the policy board seem irrevocably wedded to each other. Former and current board members say that there has never been any serious move afoot to oust Miller. "They all like to carp a lot, but nobody wants to pull the string," says McDonald. Behind the scenes, some whisper, Cherryhomes once tested the waters for a bid to orchestrate his ouster; Cherryhomes professes that she has never been a part of any such effort.

"He has certain critics out there," says current policy board chair Stenglein, "but if you think of the kind of tightrope he's walking, he does a very, very effective job." He jokingly adds, "I just wish he would wear a tie."

Miller, whose annual salary is about $90,000, is reviewed annually by the personnel committee of the policy board. According to his most recent evaluation, during the 12-month period ending June 30, 1999 he met the bulk of the objectives outlined for him by the policy board. On a scale from 1 ("unsatisfactory") to 5 ("superior"), Miller got an overall rating of 3.125, a shade above "meets expectations." That was up from 2.94 from the year before.

The review committee also urged Miller to "do a better job reaching out to the communities of color" ("That's one I don't disagree with," Miller says); to "provide active leadership in aligning NRP activities with city goals and objectives"; and to "make a more concerted effort to provide information that is consistent, neutral, and unbiased."

"It's kind of a way to say, 'Get back in line,'" says Miller. "[The review] is a way people can keep me in check. I do push the envelope a lot. I believe that's what I'm supposed to do. I'm not the easiest person to work with in the world."

Miller's style has sometimes gotten him into trouble. He confirms that a few years ago he underwent "sensitivity training" for a remark he made to a co-worker. A staffer he valued was talking about leaving the program, he recalls. "I said, 'Geez, if you leave I'm going to break both your legs,' and she took it to be a serious threat. I shouldn't have said it."

Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton, who chairs the personnel committee, says the rating is not influenced by politics. "We're not measuring him on any of the intrigue," she insists. "Bob's reviews have always been good. For the most part he is getting what I would call an average rating." She adds that the policy board unanimously approved his last review.

And no wonder, says former policy board member Ann Berget: It would be hard to find another "masochist" to run the program. Miller keeps an intense, meeting-riddled, arguably workaholic schedule. He returns one phone call regarding this story at close to midnight, after getting out of a neighborhood meeting. Another night he calls at 7:30 p.m., this time between meetings.

In addition to the board's evaluations, Miller currently faces another assessment: In December 1997, the policy board commissioned a study of the NRP from the San Francisco-based consulting firm Teamworks. The report--whose price tag now stands at close to $278,000, paid for by the NRP as well as various government agencies and foundations--is expected to be released in June. A draft of the report has been circulating around city hall; City Coordinator Kathy O'Brien says that "it's not going to be a Good Housekeepingstamp of approval or an indictment." Offers Miller: "I have not been allowed to see it...I normally expect to get beaten up. My hope is that it will be fair."

Whatever the bottom line of the Teamworks study, Miller says disagreements between him and the policymakers have more to do with the structure of the program than with him personally. "The first three or four years, it was like a war," he recalls. "There wasn't a lot of collaboration between the government agencies and the neighborhoods. It was seen as an us-versus-them situation." Many in government, he adds, "were antagonistic to the program from the very beginning."

Miller says he survived the war by carefully picking his battles. "I can appear to be off the wall," he allows. "[But] there aren't a lot of things that I do that aren't calculated to some extent."

 

On February 8 the battle laid out way back at the Northeast Armory came to a head--after a fashion. The occasion was the official meeting to discuss Phase II, the one sponsored by the city council and the policy board. The NRP Phase II Steering Committee had proposed five options for the program. Four of them called for a substantial share of the money--up to 60 percent--to be set aside for "citywide priorities," chiefly affordable housing.

Many neighborhood activists present at the meeting bristled at the idea of any city mandates. By the end of the night, one of them had conducted an admittedly unscientific straw poll. Of 146 people who cast ballots, 50.7 percent favored keeping the status quo.

Three weeks later, at the February 28 meeting of the policy board, the five options had been replaced by two new alternatives, neither of which calls for anything close to a 60 percent allocation. One called for setting aside 18 percent--or $27 million--of the program's remaining $150 million for city hall priorities, including affordable housing. The second suggested earmarking a mere $10 million to $12 million for an affordable-housing fund. On Monday, May 22, after a long meeting of parliamentary wrangling, another compromise emerged, setting aside $20 million over four years--$16 million for affordable housing and $4 million for commercial corridors. The policy board is scheduled to take public comments on the matter through June and cast a final vote in July.

What had happened? The plaid-shirt general, it turns out, had swung into action. Behind the scenes, Miller had hunkered down with MCDA executive director Steve Cramer to hammer out deals that offered something to both sides. Miller says he knew that "the votes weren't there" for leaving full control with the neighborhoods, but he wanted to steer away from alternatives that "left the neighborhoods with nothing."

Miller is too politic to claim victory before the final vote, or to suggest that he, little ol' Bob, could have done anything as canny as outmaneuver his political adversaries. Nah, he's just a guy doing what he can to get by in this crazy world. "I don't think its outflanking them," he claims. "I think it's doing what I was asked to do by the community."

If the NRP's history is any guide, Phase II won't unfold exactly as observers think it will--and no matter what happens, there will be plenty of second-guessing to go around. Then, in another eight years or so, it seems safe to expect a battle about finding a new source of cash to carry the program beyond its 2009 sunset date. Ask Miller what he thinks should happen then, and he just flashes that crazy-like-a-fox, Cheshire grin: "I don't want to play every card I have."

 

Sidebar

Where Has All the Money Gone?

THOSE WHO CRAFTED Minneapolis's Neighborhood Revitalization Program likely never envisioned that four neighborhoods (East Calhoun, East Harriet, Linden Hills, and Lynnhurst) would collectively spend $16,800 for a collection of environmental tips called a "clean water cookbook." Nor would they probably have guessed that some neighborhoods would earmark $1,000 each for radar guns to combat speeding motorists. Or that Victory residents would spend $10,000 to buy band equipment for the Loring School. Or that many neighborhoods would help fund so-called gateway art installations (to the tune of $70,000 in Phillips, more than $13,000 in Kingfield, and $30,000 in East Calhoun).

But they have done all that--and more. Analyzing how NRP money has been spent is a tricky proposition because each neighborhood's spending priorities are laid out in a separate neighborhood action plan, and projects are reported under multiple budget headings. Still, data kept by the NRP and the Minneapolis Community Development Agency (MCDA) allow for a broad-stroke breakdown of some of the largest NRP spending categories.

* The big picture:Total funding for the 20-year life of the program is $400 million.

* What has been allocated:Through early May, NRP projects approved by the policy board totaled $217.8 million. (An additional $11.8 million has been earmarked for neighborhoods whose final action plans have yet to be approved.)

* What's left for Phase II:$170.4 million. Of that, about $20 million is expected to pay for administration and a small subsidy to the city's Youth Coordinating Board, leaving roughly $150 million for the neighborhoods to spend.

* What it costs to run the program: To date, about $12.8 million has been allocated for the NRP's central office; in the second phase, estimates Bob Cooper, a Minneapolis Community Development Agency official who works with the NRP, the program will spend $2 million a year, for a total of $18 million. That brings the total administrative cost to nearly $31 million, or just less than 8 percent of the program's budget. Those numbers do not include neighborhood groups' staff and paperwork expenditures--a number officials say is hard to isolate from the various action plans.

* How much has been gobbled up by government agencies:$15.7 million of the NRP's total expenditures so far have been allocated to parks projects, including a new gymnasium in Whittier Park ($1.8 million) and a master plan for Loring Park ($1.1 million). At least $735,000 has been spent to plant roughly 8,500 trees in more than 20 neighborhoods. In addition, nearly $5 million has been allocated for school projects including computer labs, playground improvements, and special programs. And finally, $4.6 million has been slated for Hennepin County social programs, including youth and job projects, drug and alcohol outreach, and small-business training. Combined, schools, parks, and the county have attracted 11.6 percent of the NRP's funds so far.

* How much has been allocated for housing:Through the beginning of May, $98.5 million--or 45.6 percent of the total--has been designated for housing. State law requires 52.5 percent.

* Yeah, but what do you mean by housing?The MCDA's Cooper estimates that approximately $26 million of the NRP's housing funds has gone for administration, education, and other related programs. He figures that another $46 million has been spent on home-improvement loans or grants and programs to assist homebuyers; that figure also includes $5 million worth of projects to improve rental properties. The final $25 million has been designated for housing development.

But figuring out how much of that money has gone to the city's current pet cause, affordable housing, is not easy even for the numbers guru. "That's not something that has been tracked over the first nine years of the program," says Cooper. "There's no real easy answer to that question."

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