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Minneapolis Part 2: The Cost of Inequality of Opportunity

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By David Hamilton
June 9, 2021

Equality of opportunity has been the clarion call to the American middle class. No matter who you were or where you lived, it became widely accepted that in America, opportunities for upward advancement to this coveted social grouping were open to all. Although opportunities were not a given outcome, possibilities were deemed to be open for all who worked to take advantage of opportunities, or so we assumed. This broadly accepted social compact, inspired by the glowing words of our Constitution, became hard-wired into the hearts and minds of Americans for centuries, demonstrated by countless personal examples of success stories over the years. But unfortunately, issues of inequality have impeded the hopes and dreams of many.

Minneapolis, a city long known for its vibrant economy and society, was discussed in last month’s article, comparing its positive perceptions with grimmer realities, based on racial inequalities that surfaced following the killing of George Floyd. The incident sent shock waves throughout our nation and the world, forcing endless questions that included one important to our profession; why are these long-neglected issues of inequality of opportunity vitally important to public administration and to the public we serve? As Richard Rothstein reminds us in The Color of Law, As a nation, we have paid an enormous price for avoiding an obligation to remedy the unconstitutional segregation we have allowed to fester.”

During the initial civil unrest of 2020 that followed the incident, State government spent $13 million to cover the cost of the Minnesota National Guard. Additionally, nearly $8 million was spent on the Minnesota State Patrol, the Department of Natural Resources and two states that sent law enforcement, according to nprnews.org. The same source revealed that during the trial of the first officer, the Minnesota National Guard, with a presence of 3,500, came at a cost of $25 million. The settlement to the family, paid by the City of Minneapolis, was $27 million. Nationally, axios.com recently reported that the arson, vandalism and looting that took place, “Will result in $1 billion to $2 billion of paid insurance claims”. Although this list is far from exhaustive, it demonstrates the enormity of the direct costs to national, state and numerous localities. The trial of three additional officers awaits.

Perhaps a resident of the neighborhood where George Floyd was killed provided the best summary. Speaking to Nora Hertel of USA today, P.J. Hill said:

“It went from a counterfeit bill, to a man being killed, to millions of people around the nation just hurting. Then to people being angry, and responding in a militant way and destroying, burning cities. Then to grieving and trying to protest. You just think about that, all from a counterfeit bill.”

Prior to this tragic incident, the City of Minneapolis, emboldened by the election of a young mayor and a progressive city council of activists, embarked on a new vision for land use and housing. The Minneapolis 2040 Plan was presented in a lengthy report of over 300 pages found at minneapolis2040.com. Topics ranged from housing to transportation and nine other areas of general public concern to be implemented with a list of 100 “plan policies.” 14 lofty goals ranged from “eliminate disparities” to an “equitable civic participation system.” Since equitable access to home ownership is largely believed to be a key component of the aspirations of the middle class, this exhaustive policy appeared to be a worthy attempt to address the issue. But poor policies built on glowing ideologies collided with reality.

One of the key concepts, “up-zoning” of existing neighborhoods, was critiqued in a report from [email protected]. “By up-zoning the entire city, the 2040 Plan provides an economic incentive to corporations to harvest out single-family starter homes and replace them with their own rental property. Corporately owned single-family homes are already dominant in lower income neighborhoods.” The report presented this example:

Up-zoning and Racism

“The “brown belt” in the picture to the left shows where single-family homes can be demolished and replaced with housing larger than triplexes. The map to the right shows concentrations of people by race. Orange shows concentrations of people of color. Blue shows concentrations of white people.

Almost every place with a concentration of people of color is zoned to have its single-family homes demolished and replaced with larger buildings than triplexes. Single family homes in predominantly white neighborhoods can only have triplexes replace single family homes. This means that communities of color are subject to much more disruption than predominantly white communities and much more speculation by profit-seeking developers.”

The condemning conclusions clearly state the misdirection of opportunities. “The City could have chosen a different path. It could have chosen to protect single family homes instead of incentivizing their demolition. It could have aided the creation of ownership opportunities instead of rental. It could cap the number of single-family homes a corporation can own. It could reject rental licensing for low value homes, forcing them to stay ownership properties. But Minneapolis leadership has chosen rental over ownership, which will profoundly affect Minneapolis resident’s ability to build wealth.”

Author: Dr. David Hamilton is a strategic leader experienced in managing county and city governments. He holds a Doctorate in Public Administration degree from Hamline University focused on the administrative challenges created by rapid-growth in Edge Counties and metropolitan areas.  He heads his own consulting firm guiding governments and organizations in community visioning, strategic planning and capacity building and serves on the Executive Council of the Suncoast Chapter of ASPA, based in the Tampa Bay region of Florida. Contact: [email protected]

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