By Deanna Weniger, March 23, 2021 (Pioneer Press)
Ramsey County on Tuesday unveiled its new Economic Competitiveness and Inclusion Plan, believed to be the first of its kind in Minnesota.
The plan will shape county investments over the next four years through the lens of racial equity and it will require a hefty property tax hike to get it done. “Systemic problems require systemic solutions,” said Ramsey County Commissioner Nicole Joy Frethem. “I just want to express my excitement for this, and acknowledge that this (plan) is probably going to make folks uncomfortable.”
The county is proposing a property tax levy through its Housing and Redevelopment Authority to address the need for low-income housing. The levy would increase annual taxes on a median-value residential property by about $45.
An HRA is a legally distinct public entity that has special powers to purchase, sell, lease or dispose of real estate. It also has the authority to levy a tax on all taxable property within the county specifically to fund housing needs.
The county plans to use the HRA levy to collect up to $11.6 million per year to fund affordable-housing projects.
According to county statistics, there is currently a shortage of 15,000 homes that are affordable for Ramsey County households making between $30,000 and $50,000 per year.
What’s unique about the county’s plan is that racial equity will be the top priority in how those funds are used.
“Ramsey County is the first in the state of Minnesota to complete an Economic Competitiveness and Inclusion plan, but we hope they are not the last,” said Tawanna Black, founder and CEO of the St. Paul-based Center for Economic Inclusion. “Historically, economic developers have pursued growth by mitigating disparities and (have) addressed disparities when the market is thriving. Data tells us that formula is not working.”
Following the death of George Floyd while in police custody last year, the county, bolstered by positive public sentiment toward racial equity issues, was able to gather the input of thousands of residents and community leaders that helped to shape its economic plan.
The county also worked with a consultant team that included Pittsburgh-based Fourth Economy, the Center for Economic Inclusion, MZ Strategies, Urban3 and NEOO Partners.
The county’s goals are encapsulated in its summary statement: “By first becoming an employer, investor, customer, and partner of choice for Black, Latinx, Asian, and Indigenous talent, businesses, and residents; and then instituting policies, practices, and initiatives that fuel inclusive economic competitiveness, the county will build trust, foster racial inclusion and belonging, and model the principles of equity that all entities and employers must adopt for racial equity to be realized.”