Minneapolis is considering new housing and school plans that would require more families of color to move into the city, and some prominent leaders say the move is a positive one that could be a model for the country.
On Saturday, developers broke ground on what they said will be the first project of its kind in the United States: about 40 homes built by Hennepin County with affordable housing grants from the city that will be purchased by immigrants and people of color as they purchase their home.
In the city’s growing neighborhoods, white families dominate neighborhoods. White families own 30 percent of homes and 5 percent of condo units in northwest Minneapolis, compared with 65 percent of homes and 16 percent of condos for Asians and 3 percent for Latinos, according to a study released in June by Richard Brodhead, a professor of geography at the University of Minnesota who has helped design several of the city’s new housing developments and planning commissions. More than 30 percent of households in southwest Minneapolis are Latino.
The trend of white residents moving into the city — a trend that community leaders and experts say has contributed to a polarizing “white flight” — should not be construed as racist, according to John Wells, an emeritus professor of history at the University of Minnesota.
“We talk a lot about the white flight. I just don’t see it as racist,” he said. “There are degrees of white flight. I’ve never once encountered a white person who said, ‘Now, we’re leaving because we don’t want to live with people who are different than us.'”
Instead, he said, developers, city officials and residents have a responsibility to ensure that cities are not economically segregated — even if it means that some individuals move out.
“As white people, when we build housing for someone else, we make it safe for them to stay in a neighborhood they don’t like and maybe stay put because they’ve got kids,” he said. “You’re redistributing their economics so they feel more comfortable about their place in the world.”
Still, the City Council in Minneapolis decided earlier this month to exclude a “white bonus” clause from plans for its proposed new School Plan and a new property tax district for parks and open space. The plan, which will not be made public until mid-October, was sponsored by Alderman Frank Nguyen and requested by the school district.
The inclusion of a provision asking white families to contribute would not be the first time that the school district has asked white families to move to the district. In 2014, School Plan administrators had asked one family from Brooklyn Park to contribute to the cost of the Shenehon Elementary school — a proposal that sparked controversy when it was revealed that the family had moved from an apartment in St. Paul. The development team asked another white family to move to the University of Minnesota, and that proposal ended without making it to a vote of the council.
“These families have to look to the business community, the arts and food to put food on the table,” Nguyen said of some white families in the school district. “We want to let them know that they are not alone.”
But a more nuanced way of asking white families to move into districts would be to just make houses available for white families, said Jason Roberts, executive director of the Minnesota Housing Partnership.
The National Organization for Migration estimates that the country’s total foreign-born population is 3.7 million, and that there were 4.2 million foreign-born households with children. Of these, nearly 1 million immigrants and non-immigrants own their homes, according to a recent report from the National Council of La Raza.
“The kind of development we would hope to see is a more deliberative approach that would be slightly more nuanced in terms of the degree of protection there should be given to middle-class neighborhoods with regard to development,” Roberts said. “It should be written in such a way that whites would not be objecting to the development, especially those that look like they would relocate.”
The majority of homeowners in Minneapolis own their own home, according to 2013 Census Bureau data. A 2014 report from the city of Minneapolis found that more than half of the city’s homeowners have paid off their mortgages, and nearly two-thirds of homeowners are white.
Jim Terry, a Minneapolis City Council member, said the need for more diversity in the city had developed over the years.
“The question is, are you going to carve out spaces where people of color can live? and if you’re building communities of all different ethnicities, are you really getting the type of diversity you want, the type of economic development you want? The answer to both is ‘Yes,'” he said.
Hennepin County commissioners are supporting that question, creating a neighborhood