Community development remains Ishmael Israel’s focus
In a recent farewell statement dated May 4, 2015, released via the Internet to the Minneapolis community, including the MSR newspaper, Ishmael Israel announced his departure as executive director of the Northside Residents Redevelopment Council (NRRC) effective April 2015. He said he is leaving to lead the Umoja Community Development Corporation (UCDC) beginning in May 2015.
The MSR spoke with Israel about his 15-year relationship with NRRC that went from volunteering and moving up to board chair during the first 11 years, to eventually being asked by the NRRC Board of Directors to take over the organization’s executive director position four years ago, but as a contractor with the title of managing director. This board action was taken after Israel’s predecessor, Sherrie Pugh, stepped down four years ago, leaving NRRC without an executive director.
Israel has plans to join UCDC where his wife Julia Israel is the founder, president and registered agent. UCDC was recently registered with the Minnesota Secretary of State’s office on April 10, 2015.
NRRC is a nonprofit organization that has served the Near North and Willard-Hay neighborhoods since 1969. NRRC has worked on various housing and economic development projects in the last 20 years. Over the years, NRRC has renovated houses, apartment buildings, offered home-buyer training, and provided assistance to small businesses.
Israel, a native of New York City, New York, came to Minnesota in 1988 by way of Fort Worth Texas to attend Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, MN. Later he transferred to Augsburg College where he studied finance, economic theory and urban sociology. In 2006, Israel started I & I, Inc. as a licensed contractor. Later that same year, he formed Icon Builders and Development, a subsidiary of I & I, Inc.
In his statement to the community Israel says, “In partnership with amazing residents NRRC has reinvigorated the use of Community Benefits Agreements (CBAs) as an effective way to work with Minneapolis, Hennepin County and for-profit developers to deliver amenities and projects that enhance day-to-day livability in north Minneapolis. Most notable was the 2014 CBA between Hennepin County, the Ackerberg Group and NRRC on behalf of the community in the development of the Hennepin County Service Hub on Plymouth.”
CBAs are defined as a contract signed by community groups and a real estate developer to provide specific amenities and/or mitigations to the local community or neighborhood. According to Israel, the CBAs have been instrumental in creating a better North Minneapolis community by revitalizing dilapidated lots and obtaining over $600,000 in annual renewable contracts for the Hennepin County Service Hub, which is a North Minneapolis location for license renewal. Also, there was $100,000 in additional cash investment from the Ackerberg group and Hennepin County and upgrades to bus shelters.
In 2012, Israel was appointed by then-Mayor R .T. Rybak to the Minneapolis Neighborhood Community Engagement Commission (NCEC). Eventually Israel was voted in by fellow commissioners as chairman of the commission. The NCEC advises the Neighborhood Community Relations Department, which serves as the Minneapolis’ resident engagement arm. The policies and agenda of the Commission serve to bridge the gap between residents and city government.
Of the accomplishments he is most proud of besides the Hennepin County Service Hub, Israel mentions his NRRC team’s work with community leaders to create the City View Bilingual After School Program. Also in 2014, NRRC began offering Homestretch Homebuyer workshops.
Israel denies any conflict or controversy surrounded his departure from NRRC but does acknowledge conflict and poor communications between himself and NRRC Board Chairman John Jamison. Israel says that if the board had voted in a new board chair, staying with NRRC may have been a consideration for him.
MSR: Are you willing to assist NRRC with a smooth transition process if they need your help?
II: Yes, absolutely.
MSR: So what is next, now that you are with UCDC?
II: More of the same is next, just more focused. All of the community engagement that I’ve done over the years, now the next step is actually moving forward on some community development projects through UCDC.
MSR: What is one of the first major projects you would work on?
II: One of our first things for UMOJA is further vetting the possibility of a mixed-use site in North Minneapolis that has a grocery store as its anchor tenant.
MSR: What is going to be UCDC’s role?
II: UCDC is a community developer. So being involved in a project like this will fit UCDC perfectly. The roles of UCDC will change from project to project. So for some it will be assembling and financing and working with neighborhood and cultural organizations in cooperating those interests into the development. For example, they may say, “We want senior housing.” Then UCDC will begin to look for senior housing opportunities in the community. So to do all of this, we would have to first start by recruiting businesses in the area.
MSR: So what is your official title with UCDC?
II: I will be a director of operations and special projects because I don’t want to be the executive director.
MSR: What role will your wife Julia play besides being the president?
II: She is a founding board member, president and board chair.
MSR: What is her background in community development?
II: Julia has been a real estate broker for the last 15 years. She was instrumental in bringing the Home Stretch Homebuyer Program to NRRC in 2014 and sat on the diversity committee. The other part of what UCDC will be offering is addressing homeownership in the African American community. Julia will also identify resources and develop programs to increase the likelihood of the community not being out-priced by this expanding market.
Umoja Community Development Corporation has been open for business since June 1; on July they will close on a building located at 1033 Lowery Avenue North, Minneapolis. For more about UCDC, call 612-256-2567 or reach them via email at email@example.com. The UCDC website address is www.umojacdc.org.
James L. Stroud, Jr. welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
James L. Stroud, Jr. is a contributing writer and photographer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.