Beginning in 1994, the United States Congress established a process to designate a number of urban and rural areas as Renewal Communities (RC), Empowerment Zones (EZ), or Enterprise Communities (EC). These designations were used to identify many of the poorest communities in the nation.
Through a competitive process, several communities were awarded federal grants, bonds, tax credits, and other economic supports. These dollars were used in part to support small business development, affordable housing projects, living wage employment, and other community development initiatives.
In December of 1994, through the Federal Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993, St. Paul and Minneapolis were among 61 American cities designated as Enterprise Communities. Then in 1999, the Minneapolis Empowerment Zone was established during the second competitive round of federal awards administered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
One of only 18 such designees at the time, the Minneapolis Empowerment Zone encompassed all or part of 19 neighborhoods in North and South Minneapolis. Nearly 60 percent of residents living in the Minneapolis Empowerment Zone were people of color.
Support for the Enterprise Communities program ended in 2004, while the Empowerment Zone program was concluded in 2013 following a two-year extension. A little more than two decades after these initiatives were launched, a 2015 report from the (Twin Cities) Metropolitan Council suggests that conditions in both Minneapolis and St. Paul are essentially the same if not worse.
In the study titled Choice, Place and Opportunity: An Equity Assessment of the Twin Cities Region, the Metropolitan Council focusses in part on what HUD calls Racially Concentrated Areas of Poverty (RCAP). The Council notes that for its own purposes in the Twin Cities it now refers to these census tracts as “Areas of Concentrated Poverty” where 50 percent or more of residents are people of color (ACP50).
According to the United States Census Bureau, in 1990 there were a total of 31 census tracts in the Twin Cities metropolitan area that were considered Racially Concentrated Areas of Poverty (RCAP). Three percent of all metro residents lived in one of these tracts.
By the year 2000, the total number of census tracts considered RCAPs had grown to 53. And finally, the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey notes that from 2007 to 2011, the number of Twin Cities census tracts considered RCAPs had increased to 80. Furthermore, nearly one out of every 10 residents in the Twin Cities metropolitan area now lives in an RCAP, compared to approximately one out of every 33 in 1990.
The census data further demonstrates that the Minneapolis and St. Paul neighborhoods targeted by the Enterprise Community and Empowerment Zone programs have experienced an increase in poverty that has also spread into other communities. In North Minneapolis, the majority of its census tracts are RCAPs, including most or all of neighborhoods such as Near North, Hawthorne, Harrison, Willard-Hay, Sumner-Glenwood, McKinley, Jordan, and Webber-Camden among others.
In South Minneapolis, entire neighborhoods such as Phillips, Central, Bryant, and Cedar-Riverside are RCAPs. South Minneapolis communities such as Lyndale, Whittier, Elliot Park, and Powderhorn Park also have significant numbers of RCAPs.
Likewise, St. Paul has undergone significant increases in poverty and the number of RCAPs since 1990. This includes the neighborhoods of Thomas-Dale, Summit-University and Merriam Park on the West Side and Payne-Phalen, Dayton’s Bluff, and other areas on St. Paul’s East Side. St. Paul’s North End and the West Side Flats south of downtown have also witnessed a surge in the number of RCAPs over the last two decades, as have the Minneapolis suburbs of Brooklyn Park, Brooklyn Center and Richfield.
In its report, the Metropolitan Council indicates that the Great Recession of 2007 -2009 and the accompanying foreclosure epidemic had disastrous effects on all of these neighborhoods. It might even be possible that the financial crisis undermined some of the investments that had been made during the previous years.
Nonetheless, things seem to be getting worse each and every year for people of color in the Twin Cities. In the wake of report after report detailing the racial disparities in the metro area and greater Minnesota, there are a number of new initiatives that are in the works. This includes the Minnesota Department of Health’s new Center for Health Equity as well as discussions at the State Capitol that recently established the Subcommittee on Equity.
We hope for the success of these efforts and a multitude of other strategies and initiatives that will be required to reverse the trends of racially concentrated poverty and racial disparities. We cannot continue to stand by and forsake our communities and the future of our children. Too many of our citizens have already succumbed to poverty. It has to end now.
Clarence Hightower is the executive director of Community Action Partnership of Ramsey & Washington Counties. Dr. Hightower holds a Ph.D. in urban higher education from Jackson State University. He welcomes reader responses to 450 Syndicate Street North, St. Paul, MN 55104.