Fortis Capital Partners with Living Cities and the City of Minneapolis to Double Down on Bridging Racial Gaps in Access to Capital

Business ownership in Minneapolis is uneven by race. The City of Minneapolis has a total population of 411,500, of which 19% percent are Black, 10% Latinx, 6% Pan Asian, and 1% Native American. While Whites comprise 63.9% of the population, they own ~80% of the businesses. This implies that entrepreneurship amongst people of color is disproportionally lower.

In collaboration with the Minneapolis Innovation Team, a group of city employees that serves as in-house public sector innovation consultants to the City of Minneapolis, the City has uncovered key challenges facing entrepreneurs of color, including lack of intergenerational wealth, absence of affordable commercial space, confusing city processes, and poor access to advisor and investor networks. In addition, their exploration has laid bare that the Minneapolis’ capital ecosystem does not always work for entrepreneurs of color.

Research shows that entrepreneurs of color have lower levels of access to “friends and family money”, which can help to capitalize businesses, particularly at the early stages. Similarly, the underwriting criteria for debt products used by both traditional and alternative lenders does not meet the needs of entrepreneurs of color who lack wealth and have few fixed assets. Lastly, entrepreneurs of color do not have access to the informal sources of financial, knowledge, and social capital that are crucial in the start-up and early-stages of the business lifecycle.

The Fund

“Supporting small businesses owned by people of color is a critical part of any strategy to meaningfully address racial disparities in any community.”

To address the city’s long-standing racial wealth disparities and with the goal of shifting how the local capital ecosystem works, the City of Minneapolis and Living Cities’ Blended Catalyst Fund (BCF) made an inaugural investment in Fortis Capital and its Participation Loan Program. As a non-profit organization, with 501c(3) status, Fortis Capital aims to increase access to debt on reasonable terms for small and growing businesses owned by entrepreneurs of color.

“Living Cities has worked in Minneapolis/Saint Paul for over a decade through projects like The Integration Initiative and the Catalyst Fund, and we are excited to build on our existing partnerships and investments by working with the City of Minneapolis and Fortis Capital on their efforts to close the racial income and wealth gaps.”, said Demetric Duckett, Managing Director for Living Cities. “Supporting small businesses owned by people of color is a critical part of any strategy to meaningfully address racial disparities in any community.”

“Increasing access to financial, knowledge and social capital is and has been a driving force in the creation of Fortis Capital.”, said Jim Terrell, President and COO of Fortis. “We are positioned to use a proven lending model as well as key partnerships to reach borrowers and to serve communities that otherwise are not being adequately helped.”

By incorporating lending criteria that does not rely on strict credit/collateral guidelines but includes a review of business readiness; prioritizing borrowers who are unlikely to qualify for traditional bank financing, and offering terms and loan amounts that meet the needs of entrepreneurs of color, Fortis Capital leverages lessons from past local loan programs to bridge gaps in access to capital and increase jobs created or retained by people of color.

For the years 2014, 2015, and 2017, small business loan programs provided an average of $1.92MM of capital from the City and leveraged an average of $11.24MM from private lending partners. Borrowers estimated that these loans helped create an average of 256 jobs and retain an average of 340 jobs in the years 2014, 2015, and 2017. The Fortis Capital Participation Loan Program was designed to fill a number of gaps in the Minneapolis capital ecosystem. The program offers loan amounts and loan terms that address borrowers’ capital needs and, most importantly, it deliberately targets entrepreneurs of color.

Racial Equity Focus

Fortis Capital’s vision to provide flexible capital to entrepreneurs of color, innovate existing local loan structures to better meet the needs of disproportionally undercapitalized communities, and increase jobs and business ownership for Black and brown people, is not only appropriate for the current context, but aligned with BCF’s impact focus.

This alignment is manifested in the efforts that the City is doing to work with banks and nonprofits providing technical assistance to incentivize transformations within the local financial ecosystem. The aspiration is that as bank underwriters gain experience understanding the specific barriers faced by entrepreneurs of color, they will provide credit reference points to expand the bank’s underwriting approach.

The BCF’s inaugural investment in Fortis Capital is the result of Living Cities’ intentional focus on increasing investments in founders and capital decision-makers of color to achieve better outcomes in a country undergoing a rapid demographic shift. This investment is also an opportunity for the impact investing field to gain clarity around the structures and underwriting processes necessary to scale efforts to close racial wealth gaps.

To learn more about Fortis Capital contact Jim Terrell, from the Community Planning & Economic Development department, and Brian K. Smith, from the City of Minneapolis Innovation Team at info@fortiscap.org. For more information on Living Cities’ Capital for the New Majority Strategy, contact Thaddeus Fair, the Senior Investment Associate for this transaction, and Demetric Duckett, Managing Director at Living Cities at catalystfund@livingcities.org.

Powered by WPeMatico

No Equity, No Resilience: Minneapolis is All of Us

It is critical to pause, reflect, and recognize that cities who are not equitable will always be in recovery mode. Inequity is a noted stress in the language of resilience shocks and stresses. It increases the probability and severity of shocks – like social uprisings and the civil unrest we have seen unfold. This holds true for a vast range of other natural and man-made shocks.

Powered by WPeMatico

Fortis Capital Partners with Living Cities and the City of Minneapolis to Double Down on Bridging Racial Gaps in Access to Capital

Business ownership in Minneapolis is uneven by race. The City of Minneapolis has a total population of 411,500, of which 19% percent are Black, 10% Latinx, 6% Pan Asian, and 1% Native American. While Whites comprise 63.9% of the population, they own ~80% of the businesses. This implies that entrepreneurship amongst people of color is disproportionally lower.

In collaboration with the Minneapolis Innovation Team, a group of city employees that serves as in-house public sector innovation consultants to the City of Minneapolis, the City has uncovered key challenges facing entrepreneurs of color, including lack of intergenerational wealth, absence of affordable commercial space, confusing city processes, and poor access to advisor and investor networks. In addition, their exploration has laid bare that the Minneapolis’ capital ecosystem does not always work for entrepreneurs of color.

Research shows that entrepreneurs of color have lower levels of access to “friends and family money”, which can help to capitalize businesses, particularly at the early stages. Similarly, the underwriting criteria for debt products used by both traditional and alternative lenders does not meet the needs of entrepreneurs of color who lack wealth and have few fixed assets. Lastly, entrepreneurs of color do not have access to the informal sources of financial, knowledge, and social capital that are crucial in the start-up and early-stages of the business lifecycle.

The Fund

“Supporting small businesses owned by people of color is a critical part of any strategy to meaningfully address racial disparities in any community.”

To address the city’s long-standing racial wealth disparities and with the goal of shifting how the local capital ecosystem works, the City of Minneapolis and Living Cities’ Blended Catalyst Fund (BCF) made an inaugural investment in Fortis Capital and its Participation Loan Program. As a non-profit organization, with 501c(3) status, Fortis Capital aims to increase access to debt on reasonable terms for small and growing businesses owned by entrepreneurs of color.

“Living Cities has worked in Minneapolis/Saint Paul for over a decade through projects like The Integration Initiative and the Catalyst Fund, and we are excited to build on our existing partnerships and investments by working with the City of Minneapolis and Fortis Capital on their efforts to close the racial income and wealth gaps.”, said Demetric Duckett, Managing Director for Living Cities. “Supporting small businesses owned by people of color is a critical part of any strategy to meaningfully address racial disparities in any community.”

“Increasing access to financial, knowledge and social capital is and has been a driving force in the creation of Fortis Capital.”, said Jim Terrell, President and COO of Fortis. “We are positioned to use a proven lending model as well as key partnerships to reach borrowers and to serve communities that otherwise are not being adequately helped.”

By incorporating lending criteria that does not rely on strict credit/collateral guidelines but includes a review of business readiness; prioritizing borrowers who are unlikely to qualify for traditional bank financing, and offering terms and loan amounts that meet the needs of entrepreneurs of color, Fortis Capital leverages lessons from past local loan programs to bridge gaps in access to capital and increase jobs created or retained by people of color.

For the years 2014, 2015, and 2017, small business loan programs provided an average of $1.92MM of capital from the City and leveraged an average of $11.24MM from private lending partners. Borrowers estimated that these loans helped create an average of 256 jobs and retain an average of 340 jobs in the years 2014, 2015, and 2017. The Fortis Capital Participation Loan Program was designed to fill a number of gaps in the Minneapolis capital ecosystem. The program offers loan amounts and loan terms that address borrowers’ capital needs and, most importantly, it deliberately targets entrepreneurs of color.

Racial Equity Focus

Fortis Capital’s vision to provide flexible capital to entrepreneurs of color, innovate existing local loan structures to better meet the needs of disproportionally undercapitalized communities, and increase jobs and business ownership for Black and brown people, is not only appropriate for the current context, but aligned with BCF’s impact focus.

This alignment is manifested in the efforts that the City is doing to work with banks and nonprofits providing technical assistance to incentivize transformations within the local financial ecosystem. The aspiration is that as bank underwriters gain experience understanding the specific barriers faced by entrepreneurs of color, they will provide credit reference points to expand the bank’s underwriting approach.

The BCF’s inaugural investment in Fortis Capital is the result of Living Cities’ intentional focus on increasing investments in founders and capital decision-makers of color to achieve better outcomes in a country undergoing a rapid demographic shift. This investment is also an opportunity for the impact investing field to gain clarity around the structures and underwriting processes necessary to scale efforts to close racial wealth gaps.

To learn more about Fortis Capital contact Jim Terrell, from the Community Planning & Economic Development department, and Brian K. Smith, from the City of Minneapolis Innovation Team at info@fortiscap.org. For more information on Living Cities’ Capital for the New Majority Strategy, contact Thaddeus Fair, the Senior Investment Associate for this transaction, and Demetric Duckett, Managing Director at Living Cities at catalystfund@livingcities.org.

Powered by WPeMatico

Why This Started in Minneapolis

Police officer Derek Chauvin killed George Floyd near the intersection of Chicago Avenue and East 38th Street in Minneapolis, but the protests that have erupted in response to his death have rippled worldwide. From Riverton, Wyoming, to Flatbush, Brooklyn — and now in Paris, London, and other European capitals — communities have risen up in a shared rage that speaks to the universality of police violence and the inequities that feed it.

Minneapolis, however, stands out as the site where it all began. The city’s history of disparate policing, and the ways racism and division molded its physical landscape, might help us understand why.

Minneapolis is at once considered one of the most livable cities in the country, and the one with some of the greatest racial disparities in housing and income and education. There’s a dissonance, locals say, between its progressive rhetoric and the reality of how people of different races experience completely different cities. This local paradox is a microcosm of the statewide “Minnesota Paradox,” a term coined by University of Minnesota economist Samuel L. Myers Jr., to highlight the often-ignored inequality that defines the region.

CityLab spoke with five experts on race, culture, and state and local history to understand how they’ve experienced these divides, and how to bridge them. Our conversations have been edited and condensed.

William D. Green, history professor at Augsburg University: Back in 1860, even though Minnesota was free soil and had in its constitution a ban against slavery, slaveholders would come to Minnesota to vacation.

Abolitionists brought one slave woman to court and freed her, and what resulted was a riot in the city. For the next four or five months, neighbors in Minneapolis walked the streets with loaded weapons, waiting for their neighbors to provoke them.

And what averted that pending crisis was when the Confederates attacked Fort Sumter and started the Civil War. Minnesotans shifted their focus away from their neighbors — what got them to change their focus was joining up. Minnesota was the first state to send volunteers into the Union Army.

So you have this strange situation, where people were willing to defend a slaveholder’s right to hold a slave in Minnesota, despite what the state law said, and they were also willing to join up and fight to preserve the Union.

Daniel Bergin, documentary filmmaker for Twin Cities PBS: This paradox goes to the very founding of the state: the colonization and the displacement of Dakota and Ojibwe, which is its own complex and deep and insidious story. But in terms of the African-American experience, even after the territorial period, there was this tension around abolitionist culture from the New Englanders who had largely made up Minneapolis at the time, and the businessmen who were seated in St. Paul.

Literally, when they were founding the state, there were two constitutions: One that made a statement against slavery. And then another that didn’t.

Green: After the war, Minnesotans tried three times to pass a law that would extend the voting rights to black men. And on the third attempt, they succeeded — before the 15th Amendment was ratified. Just months after that, the legislature passed a law saying that any school system in Minnesota that segregated on the basis of race would lose all state funding. And then they also began to see black people serve on juries, which was something that had never happened in Minnesota. This is all before 1870.

And then right after that, nothing happened. It was like the progressives and the friends of black people took their feet off the pedal and began to coast in complacence on their good deeds. Even though Minnesota would later pass two or three public accommodations laws banning banning segregation and discrimination in public settings, you still had discrimination being carried out by white shopkeepers and restaurateurs and whatnot, denying or harassing black patronage.

What that represents is that policymakers did high-minded things, but they did not push down that sense of enlightenment into the body politic. Policymakers and the body politic lived in parallel worlds with regard to race relations.

By the end of the century, the reputation of Minnesota across the nation was that Minnesota at least was racially tolerant, but what was not being addressed was the fact that the black population in Minnesota is exceedingly small. And what that meant was there were not a lot of black people around to test the social customs that permitted segregation to continue, and discrimination to exist.

Taiyon J. Coleman, assistant professor of English literature at St. Catherine University in St. Paul: After I moved to the state, I wrote an essay, “Disparate Impacts: Moving to Minnesota to Live Just Enough for the City,” which appeared in the anthology “A Good Time for the Truth: Race in Minnesota.” At the end of the essay, I say, “There are Confederate flags everywhere, even if you can’t see them.” That’s what I would say about Minnesota. There are good people here. It’s a good place to live: There are parks, and recreation, and this notion of public interest for the public good. But there’s this undercurrent of Minnesota niceness that is very homogenized. You see that in housing, in education, in employment, in net wealth, in incarceration — we have the largest racial disparities in the nation. And with those disparities, there’s a culture that people don’t want to look at it.

You can’t imagine how frustrating it is. I have all the degrees, all the things that U.S.A. society has said I need to have in order to access citizenship — what I loosely call whiteness, because whiteness is a constructed identity — but that is still never enough. That still never protects you. And that’s what the paradox is. You’ve achieved all this, and you have these things, but it doesn’t make you safe. Even with my privilege, I still don’t have access to that.

Green: People are surprised by the depth of anger and grievance when a police officer abuses an African American or kills an African American and there’s a human cry in the community. Many people in Minnesota and even in Minneapolis are surprised at the intensity of the anger. What that tells me is that to a large extent, even though this is, for the most part, a progressive/liberal city, it’s also a city in which the races live in parallel universes. It is possible for white people to have no contacts at all with blacks unless they have kids in the schools, or at my university, or they’re in the military, or prison.

Kirsten Delegard, co-founder of Mapping Prejudice, which tracks racial housing covenants in Minneapolis: In the early part of the 20th century, Minneapolis was not trying to market itself as a model progressive metropolis. It was quite the opposite: In 1946, the city was named the “anti-Semitism capital of the United States.” It actually had a profound reputation for intolerance, and there was a very powerful group here that brutally repressed all labor organizing.

It was in response to that very bad publicity in the ‘30s and ‘40s that you have this young mayor by the name of Hubert Humphrey who’s elected and makes his political career on trying to change the racial climate of Minneapolis.

He launches what was hailed at the time as this really innovative sociological experiment with these black sociologists and tries to get every Minneapolitan to do a self-audit of their own feelings about race, and all their organizations’ practices about race. This experiment really puts Minneapolis on the map as this progressive metropolis — but it was all about feelings, it was all about attitude. It did nothing to address the material conditions of life for black people. When I read those reports from the 1940s I was really struck by the fact that while they had people do all these rankings of their attitudes, there was basically a passing reference to the fact that 40% of the city at least had been restricted by these racial covenants.

Racial covenants are a legal clause that specifies that land can never be occupied or sold to anyone who’s not white. The first one that Mapping Prejudice has found was introduced in Minneapolis in 1910. Before that moment, Minneapolis was not a particularly segregated place. But after, racial covenants were in use for 40 years. A lot of these contemporary disparities that are so pronounced and brutal have roots in the history of deliberate efforts to make sure that all land in the city remained in the control of white people.

Bergin: You start to see this map taking place, where black folks and other people of color couldn’t buy, couldn’t build, weren’t allowed to even occupy. Then, as history shows us, the redlining that the Federal Housing Authority implemented during the Depression literally follows these profiles and these boundaries and barriers in terms of what neighborhoods were worthy of investing in and underwriting loans in. What we learned recently is that it wasn’t just informal patterns of occupancy — it’s all based on the systemic racism of the 19th century. And then it shows up later in the 20th century, in terms of the growing disparities.

Delegard: You could tell the story that I told you about almost any American city: Racial covenants are not unique to Minneapolis, redlining’s not unique, white violence is not unique, real estate steering is not unique to Minneapolis. But the way they were used has created a different environment here.

When they first started to be used, there were just very few African Americans in this city. Because the restrictions were adopted in such a universal, overwhelming way, where so much of the land as it developed in the city throughout the 20th century was just off-limits to anyone who was not white — the fact that that happened at a really critical moment in the city’s history in the way that it did really created a different geography of intolerance in this city, a segregation of opportunity.

Because of that, it became very, very hard for African Americans to find a place to live and buy a home — and very hard to buy a home where they could actually amass wealth over time, rather than homeownership being a financial burden.

Shannon Smith Jones, executive director of the nonprofit affordable housing organization Hope Community: We can tout this as a really great space to live. Minnesota is absolutely beautiful: We do have beautiful parks, we have walkable places, bikable places, all of these lakes. But who and how we get to access those things has always been a part of it. Green spaces look different in North Minneapolis than they do in other parts of the city. Even up until recently, when they started investing in inner-city parks, there are huge disparities in what parks look like in North Minneapolis vs. Southwest Minneapolis. There’s been a value laid in the infrastructures that have allowed for those that succeed and those who that don’t to be held along the racial lines.

Coleman: I want to say this: Blackness is complicated. It’s not just color. It’s also what class you are, where you live, what you look like, where you work. I have a colleague who lives in St. Paul, who told me [last week] that the police were outside her house in riot gear with bullhorns telling them to stay inside and not come out of the house. Where I live, in the Nokomis neighborhood, that wasn’t happening at all. Would that ever have happened to Mr. Floyd if he was in my neighborhood?

I would argue that this is how segregation works in Minneapolis or Minnesota: It re-inscribes the racial stereotypes, because it keeps peaceful people isolated, so that not only are they the other, but then I’m convinced they’re the other, because I never see them where I live. When that police officer was doing that to Floyd, yes, he should be held accountable, but he could not get away with his actions if other people were not complicit in allowing him to do that.

When people are othered, you can watch a man kill in front of your face and literally not see it. You can be in a room with different people, and based upon your skin color, your geography, where you grew up, where you live, you’re going to see something completely different. This is a symptom of a bigger systemic disease. We need to get justice for Mr. Floyd — but we got a big problem, because [Chauvin] couldn’t get away with what he did if we didn’t have a culture that perpetuated that type of action and made it possible.

Green: George Floyd’s death is not a turning point in policing. Right after the passage of the black suffrage law in Minnesota [in 1868], there was an article that appeared in the newspaper of note saying that in police court, we have a lot of “unsavories,” and they used the n-word. It was an example of — and a reflection — of the disproportionate arrests of African Americans. We’re talking about a small population, and yet per capita, more blacks were arrested for crimes for which white people who committed the same crimes were not arrested for.

Then you also have a series of incidents where cops were especially brutal to African Americans who were detained or who they were seeking to arrest. Again, we’re talking 19th century, but to read the events of those arrests, you might as well be looking at what just happened on 38th and Chicago.

And of course, the message conveyed there is that these cops are doing their job because the African American is a threat to social order. And that the cops are given the license to manhandle, and to be abusive of the “black miscreants.” That sensibility has been in Minnesota, just beneath the surface, since the Civil War.

Bergin: There is a lot we can learn from movements of the past, and I think it’s kind of urgent, in fact, because what we need to get to is the community-building that follows. We had unrest in Minneapolis in the late 1960s, as many Northern cities did. And now we can see what resulted: Some spaces and places and people never healed. And then — there’s the paradox again — there were also really really powerful outcomes that were black-led in solidarity with others.

After the Northside riots in ’67, white businessmen and others, together with black leadership said, “what can we do?” And they formed this organization called the Metropolitan Economic Development Association — an incubator that helps to educate and hopefully launch minority- and women-owned businesses. That organization is still here today, still helping diverse businesses get off the ground and supporting them. It is an outgrowth of the disruptions of the late 60s.

[Another outgrowth] is the election to mayor of a former cop and head of the Minneapolis Police Federation, Charles Stenvig. He was a late-‘60s law-and-order proponent and got elected because of some of the civil unrest — he ran on the catchphrase, “taking the handcuffs off the Minneapolis police.” You had political leadership emerging out of police culture.

Coleman: When the governor was saying, “We have to get back to normal,” I know he was well meaning and well intentioned, but that scared me. I said, “No, this is normal for black people.” You’re always afraid.

As Mr. Floyd’s choking out on the street, think about Covid. People of color are [three] times more likely to die from Covid. They’re being choked out the same way — they, too, cannot breathe. And are we seeing it? Is it important, or is it business as usual? States are reopening. People are going around as if it’s no big deal. Because we’ve been socialized to say those deaths, those bodies, those people don’t matter.

I don’t condone what the protesters did. But if that is the metaphor for equality and enfranchisement, people of color are always on fire.

Powered by WPeMatico

In Minneapolis Protests, Bus Drivers Take a Side

As demonstrations in Minneapolis continued Friday over the death of George Floyd, a black man who died on May 25 after pleading for help while pinned under the knee of a police officer,  some local bus operators have refused to assist police in transporting protesters to jail.

PayDay Report first reported the news that operators had been asked by police to use their vehicles to facilitate mass arrests on Wednesday. A petition to refuse such requests is circulating among members of ATU 1005, which represents drivers employed by Metro Transit in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

“We don’t want our people involved in that,” said Dorothy Maki-Green, the vice president of ATU 1005. “We’re not on the side of justice of that.”

The union chapter also issued its own statement of protest on Thursday against Floyd’s killing. “In ATU we have a saying ‘NOT ONE MORE’ when dealing with driver assaults which in some cases have led to members being murdered while doing their jobs,” it read. “We say ‘NOT ONE MORE’ execution of a black life by the hands of police.”

On Friday, former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was arrested and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter for Floyd’s death. He and three other officers involved were fired on Tuesday, after video of Chauvin’s fatal use of force surfaced, triggering a wave of outrage. Floyd’s family has said that his death was “clearly murder.” Largely peaceful protests over the killing began on Wednesday but have since been accompanied by looting and violence, with a police precinct and numerous businesses going up in flames; one person was found shot to death near the protests. A separate demonstration occurred Thursday night in Louisville, Kentucky, over the killing of Breonna Taylor, an African-American EMT shot by three police officers inside her home in March. As the weekend begins, protests are taking place in cities nationwide. In Minneapolis and St. Paul, an 8 p.m. curfew has been imposed starting Friday night.

In Minneapolis, much of the local transit workforce is held together by African Americans and Somali immigrants, said Ryan Timlin, the president of ATU 1005. His fellow drivers face racism all the time.“You’re never away from it,” Timlin said. “It’s always there, whether it’s from bus passengers or in daily life.”

Race and transportation access have collided before in Minneapolis, said Yingling Fan, a professor of regional planning and public policy at the University of Minnesota. Like many U.S. cities, it is sliced up by major interstates built in the 1960s. These forced out black communities, including the Rondo neighborhood, which made way for I-94 near downtown. “It displaced and destroyed what was a vibrant African-American community with surgical precision,” said Fan.

By prioritizing highways over public transit infrastructure, the city continued to leave low-income residents of color at a disadvantage, since those communities are less likely to own cars. “There is so much injustice that is built into our city and in transportation infrastructure already,” she said.

Despite the progressive reputation they enjoy, the Twin Cities are among the most racially segregated urban areas in the U.S. The fracture dates back to the days of redlining and real estate covenants, which limited home ownership opportunities for black families and cordoned off entire neighborhoods. Today, access to high-quality transit and job opportunities continues to be issue for majority-black neighborhoods in north Minneapolis. In 2010, when planning for the new Green Line light rail line was underway, black community groups in St. Paul filed a lawsuit to force the city to include stops in their neighborhoods.

“Minneapolis is so racially segregated and we have a long history of forcing people into accessing only small portions of the city,” said Denise Pike, a local public historian focused on race and urban planning. “We have such intense racial and economic disparities, which plays into how people move around different parts of the city.”

The fact that Floyd was arrested and killed on a public sidewalk is a symbol of those disparities, said Ashwat Narayanan, the executive director of Our Streets Minneapolis, a street safety advocacy group. The coronavirus pandemic has already recently highlighted the need for safe transportation options for low-income communities of color hit hardest by Covid-19 and who are reliant on public transit, where crowding is a health concern. The actions of law enforcement in those spaces are part of that equation, said Narayanan.

“We really believe that the safety of everyone on our streets cannot be taken for granted until and unless black people are able to move freely in public space without fear of police violence,” he said.

That point is underscored by Minneapolis’ more recent, pre-pandemic strides to improve light rail and bus services and bike corridors, including in underserved communities. “When we think about discrimination, it’s not always about facility access,” said Fan. “It’s also about the culture we have in this society.”

Powered by WPeMatico

When Minneapolis Segregated

Before it was torn apart by freeway construction in the middle of the 20th century, the Near North neighborhood in Minneapolis was home to the city’s largest concentration of African American families. That wasn’t by accident: As far back as the early 1900s, racially restrictive covenants on property deeds prevented African Americans and other minorities from buying homes in many other areas throughout the city.

In 1948, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that such racial covenants were unenforceable. But the mark they made on America’s neighborhoods lived on: By excluding minorities from certain parts of a city and concentrating them elsewhere, these racist property clauses established enduring patterns. They were reinforced by redlining, a discriminatory home lending practice promulgated by real estate agents and federal housing programs in the 1930s; later, urban planning decisions on highways and other infrastructure projects followed the lines inscribed by decades-old covenants.

The effects still reverberate today: Despite its reputation for prosperity and progressive politics, Minneapolis now has the lowest rate of homeownership among African American households of any U.S. city.

Now, a group called Mapping Prejudice is uncovering these roots of the city’s racial disparities by documenting and mapping all of the old restrictive covenants in Minneapolis. “All that civic rhetoric about [Minneapolis] being a model metropolis at the cutting edge of great urban planning obscures some darker truths about the city,” said Kirsten Delegard, a Minneapolis historian and project co-founder.

Areas of the city where racial covenants were widely used tend to be predominantly white today. (Mapping Prejudice / City of Minneapolis, Division of Long Range Planning)

Delegard launched Mapping Prejudice in 2016, along with University of Minnesota map librarian Ryan Mattke, local property records specialist Penny Peterson, and geography scholar Kevin Ehrman-Solberg. Initially, Delegard thought she could get the project done in a couple months with the help of a few undergrads from Augsburg University, where she taught at the time. She took a few students with her to the county deed recorder’s office and started pulling deeds. But there were hundreds of thousands of deeds, each several pages long. “Three hours later the students were in tears, and it was positively clear to me this wasn’t going to be possible using traditional research methods,” she said.

Fortunately, the county had just finished digitizing its property records. Ehrman-Solberg, a Ph.D student in the University of Minnesota’s Geography, Environment, and Society program, developed data mining software to scan the deeds and flag those with language commonly used in the covenants. After scanning roughly 3 million pages of documents, the software flagged roughly 32,000 deeds that were then checked by human volunteers recruited via the crowdsourcing site Zooniverse.

A 1939 example of a racially restrictive covenant on a Minneapolis property. (Mapping Prejudice)

More than 3,000 people, many of them students or retired people, have contributed their time to the project. “Each deed has to be verified by 5 unique volunteers,” said Ehrman-Solberg. So far, they’ve identified roughly 30,000 properties with covenants restricting sales to minorities.

The earliest covenant the team found in Minneapolis dates to 1910; it stipulated that the property “shall not at any time be conveyed, mortgaged or leased to any person or persons of Chinese, Japanese, Moorish, Turkish, Negro, Mongolian or African blood or descent.” African Americans were targeted by all the covenants the group has seen in Minneapolis, Delegard said. Some banned sales to Jews and other specific groups. One forbade the use or occupancy of the property by “persons of any race other than the Aryan race”—but made an exception for domestic servants.

“I want people to read these deeds because the language is so shocking,” Delegard said. “If you read the primary sources for yourself, it prompts a kind of learning and revelation you can’t get from people giving you digested information.”

Properties with racial covenants (blue) form a partial ring around several  parks. (Mapping Prejudice)

When the team started mapping properties with racial covenants, a pattern quickly jumped out: the density of covenants in neighborhoods surrounding city parks, forming a “racial cordon” of white neighborhoods around these public resources.

Before covenants appeared in 1910, Delegard said, Minneapolis was more or less integrated, with a small but evenly distributed African American population. By 1940, as covenants spread, black residents had become concentrated in three small neighborhoods, including Near North.

“It’s very powerful to show these deed restrictions creeping out across the landscape of Minneapolis, like an organism or disease,” said Nathan Connolly, an urban historian at Johns Hopkins University and co-founder of Mapping Inequality, a similarly titled project that documents the effects of New Deal-era redlining on American cities.

Federal housing maps created between 1935 and 1940, ostensibly to help mortgage lenders avoid risky loans, served to deepen the segregation process that housing covenants began. They relied on local developers and realtors to identify “hazardous” neighborhoods—a determination frequently based on race. As a result, people in minority neighborhoods found it difficult, if not impossible, to get a mortgage. The federal programs codified and standardized local knowledge, Connolly said: “Covenants were the critical foundation.”

That story was not unique to Minneapolis. Restrictive covenants were commonplace in American cities of the early 20th century, including New York, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., Seattle, Portland, Detroit, and just about anywhere researchers have bothered to look.

What is exceptional about Minneapolis is its efforts to reckon with its history of discrimination. No other American city had as comprehensive a covenant research project as Mapping Prejudice, although others have tried. The Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project at the University of Washington, for example, began mapping restrictive covenants in 2004; so far, it has identified about 500 covenants covering approximately 20,000 properties, according to historian and project co-founder James Gregory. Prologue DC, a historical research group that recently developed an exhibit on segregation in Washington, D.C., has identified about 15,000 racially restrictive covenants, according to historian and co-founder Mara Cherkasky. But the group has only examined a small fraction of the city’s property records.

More significantly, Minneapolis city leaders are currently undertaking a major reform to the local zoning code in order to directly address the city’s historic segregation. As of January 1, single-family zoning codes have been eliminated citywide, a move that planners hope will encourage the construction of apartments and other more affordable dwellings in areas of the city that have long been predominantly white and wealthy. This and other ambitious (and not uncontroversial) changes to local laws are meant to amend historic injustices. (They’re also part of a national wave of upzoning measures aimed at increasing housing access: Oregon will roll out a statewide ban on single-family zoning in 2021, and Seattle and other cities have toyed with the idea as a means to increase the supply of affordable housing.)

The work of Mapping Prejudice influenced planners as they hashed out the new Minneapolis code, said Heather Worthington, the city’s director of long-range planning. “There’s a direct linkage between those practices in the late 19th, early 20th century and today’s modern zoning plans,” she said. “Part of  the impetus for changing how we view land use is to try to undo some of those impacts.”

As the project demonstrates, digging up the racially restrictive past of property deeds take a lot of sweat and tears. But the zoning changes in Minneapolis and other legislative reforms indicate that they can have an impact: Minnesota and Washington enacted laws earlier this year that allow homeowners to renounce restrictive covenants in their deeds. “It’s only symbolic,” said Gregory—the covenants have been unenforceable for decades. “But it’s part of a necessary recognition that the past is still with us.”

Powered by WPeMatico