Figuring out how to tackle racial and geographic gaps in homeownership and housing conditions will be the first tasks for Minneapolis’ new “Innovation Team.”

Six new employees were hired in May to investigate how well the city does in distributing basic city services to all residents. The positions were funded with a grant from Bloomberg Philanthrophies, which will give Minneapolis up to $2.7 million over three years.

Don Joseph, the team’s director, said his group has spent the last few months sorting through data, meeting with city department leaders and outside groups. They found gaps in health, education and other areas, but decided that housing was a topic that could have an impact on a variety of disparities.

“People living in safe and healthy homes receive both physical and emotional benefits,” he said. “And the entire city’s rewarded when someone has a good place to live in.”

The team found that Minneapolis residents’ race and where they live plays a major role in the likelihood that they own a home, that the home is in good shape, and if many homes in the area are prone to nuisance violations. 

Joseph said the team wasn’t ready to discuss its specific goals or the measures it will use to track progress, but it intends to come up with a list of recommendations that will be released to the public in January.

City Coordinator Spencer Cronk said it’s possible some of those suggestions could include changes to city ordinances, in addition to internal changes in how departments share data or coordinate efforts with private groups.

He said department leaders have been supportive of the questions coming from newcomers to city government, and interested in sharing their own ideas.

“What I’ve been hearing from my colleagues across the enterprise is that it’s really a new perspective,” he said. 

Minneapolis is one of 11 cities to receive funding through the Bloomberg program last year. Cities that received funding in an earlier round of grants have reported results in the areas they’ve targeted; New Orleans saw a drop in its murder rate and Memphis, Tenn., had a drop in retail vacancies. 

Bloomberg Philanthropies oversees the charitable work funded by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Minneapolis is also using its own funds for two permanent positions with a similar aim.
The two positions represent a new Office of Equitable Outcomes and were a subject of debate during last year’s budget process. Council members sparred over how best to fund equity work but eventually approved $250,000 in spending on the new office.

So far, however, those positions have not been occupied. Cronk said the city recently hired two people, but could not release the new employees’ names or their salaries until next week.

The posted salary range for the positions was $83,592 to $102,501, and Cronk said the pay rate will likely fall in the middle of that range.