Mayor Frey’s budget acknowledges underserved Black community

Innovative investments proposed for housing, safety, racial equity

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey (Charles Hallman/MSR News)

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey is “putting our money where our mouth is” with his inaugural $1.55 billion budget proposal. This includes holding true on his promise for a historic investment in affordable housing.

“Our city’s population continues to grow at a rate not seen since the early 20th century,” Frey said on August 15 to a crowded room and the entire city council. That growth, he said, has put the city up against an “unprecedented” affordable housing crisis.

“While neighborhoods across Minneapolis continue to feel the benefits of a growing economy, too many people in our city are not included in that growth,” said Frey.

Frey proposed that the City invest a record $40 million to address the crisis, with an additional $13 million coming from federal investment. The earmarked dollars include $125,000 for a tenant hotline and an investment of $3.4 million for naturally occurring affordable housing. However, the bulk of it – $21.6 million – will go toward the Affordable Housing Trust Fund: an allotment of federal and city money set aside for large-scale developers seeking to participate in creating or maintaining affordable housing.

In 2018, Frey said, there were 16 applicants who wanted to build affordable housing that, in total, needed $23 million of support from the trust fund.

“So, the good news is that people want to build affordable housing here in Minneapolis,” he said. “The bad news is that this year, we didn’t have the resources to support many of those requests.”

Of the $40 million proposed by Frey, $30 million would be a one-time investment. Councilmember Jeremy Schroeder suggested looking beyond the one-time approach at a budget overview presentation to the city council on August 27.

“Unless we’re expecting renters to go away, we need to continue to fund them every year,” said Schroeder. “And that’s much, much easier when we are being honest taxpayers and honest with our city that this is a commitment.”

The new investments are to come from an increase in the City’s tax levy from 5.5 percent this year to 5.63 percent in 2019. Not all homeowners will see a tax increase, however.

“To the average property owner, if your home value did not increase from 2018, this budget will result in a $55 or a four percent decrease in the City’s tax bill,” explained Frey. “If your home value increased by 10 percent, the annual increase will be $85 or 6.5 percent.”

The budget also includes strategies to level racial disparities across the city and improve community-police relationships.

When it came to economic inclusion, Frey said, “The Black community continues to be financially underserved and excluded – even as the number of new businesses owned by Black people continues to outpace many other groups.”

To support more inclusive efforts, he proposed a $500,000 investment in the Village Trust Financial Cooperative, the only Black-owned cooperative and community development financial institution in Minnesota. Frey also said he would set aside $25,000 to begin site planning for an African American Museum and Center for Racial Equity. Council Vice President Andrea Jenkins initially recommended the new center earlier this year. Frey said the visioning process has already begun, with a proposed location within the “cultural corridor” of 38th Street and Fourth Avenue in South Minneapolis.

“The museum and center will be a place of affirmation and serve as a training ground to mental health providers,” he said. “It is a visualization of culture and racial healing that says very clearly, ‘Yes, you matter.’”

Frey’s budget also addresses his desire to increase the Minneapolis police force. In an interview with MSR earlier this year, Frey presented this logic for more police: “…[W]e want to enhance police-community relations. If an officer is 40 minutes late to one 911 call, has a horrible interaction with the community followed by being 45 minutes late to the next one, that’s no way to build trust.”

Frey shied away from adding more officers outright, instead proposing to direct $1 million for civilian employees to work in non-policing positions currently held by sworn officers.

“Converting these positions not only frees up sworn officers to build better relationships, it also results in more efficient and cost-effective work done by individuals specifically trained and educated in their fields, like crime lab forensics, body-worn camera technicians, and a new LGBTQIA liaison,” he said.

The new positions would place eight more officers on the streets, as civilians cost, on average, $28,000 less a year than sworn police officers.

Other public safety measures included in his budget proposal include a $280,000 investment in the City’s Mental Health Co-responder program, $150,000 for wellness assistance for police officers, $50,000 to support the multi-jurisdictional opioid task-force, and $270,000 to support the ongoing work of the City’s Group Violence Intervention program, as well as $100,000 to support its expansion.

Frey also proposed $25,000 for a “Fix it, Not Ticket” initiative that would allow police officers to give out vouchers for services like free brake light repair instead of issuing tickets that can cause people to “get trapped in a cycle of unpayable tickets and fees.” He added it would also be a way to improve police-community relations.

Frey proposed an upfront investment of $200,000 for municipal IDs that would be available for anyone above the age of 14 regardless of immigration status. “This City ID card will grant our residents benefits, opportunities, and – hopefully – some peace of mind,” he said.

The City Council will have final say on the budget with a final vote in December. For an overview of the budget, go to bit.ly/mplsbudget2019.

About Keith Schubert

Keith Schubert is a contributing writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. He can be reached at kschubert@spokesman-recorder.com.

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