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House bill could offer lifeline for Minneapolis, St. Paul areas devastated by civil unrest

Cleanup along a hard-hit stretch of East Lake Street in Minneapolis following the civil unrest that erupted after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis Police Department custody. Photo by Andrew VonBank

Nearly two months after nights of sweeping civil unrest in Minneapolis and St. Paul, business owners, residents and property owners devastated by the destruction still need help rebuilding.

More than 1,500 buildings along major commercial thoroughfares like Minneapolis’ East Lake Street, West Broadway Avenue and St. Paul’s University Avenue suffered what officials estimated are $500 million in damages as a result of the fires, looting and vandalism that occurred following George Floyd’s death in police custody on Memorial Day.

Legislation approved Friday in the House Jobs and Economic Development Finance Division would create an immediate relief program for those impacted areas, with more than $167 million in General Fund funding proposed to aid rebuilding.

“As Minnesotans, we take care of each other,” said Rep. Jim Davnie (DFL-Mpls), who sponsors SSHF37. “And that’s what House File 37 is about: taking care of each other.”

HF37 heard in House jobs division 7/17/20

Approved and re-referred to the House Ways and Means Committee along party lines, SSHF37 would make flexible loans of up to $500,000 to eligible entities, and grants of up to $250,000.

Davnie said the primary goal of the bill is to help existing businesses and non-profits rebuild — not to replace the many existing minority- and immigrant-owned businesses in those areas with new redevelopment. The bill would do so by requiring grant and loan recipients to remain in the community and to develop plans for continued operations in their neighborhoods.

“Many of the businesses on Lake Street are Black and brown folks, immigrants,” said Rep. Hodan Hassan (DFL-Mpls), who represents part of the area impacted by May and June’s civil unrest. “Many of them are first-generation immigrants who came to this country with nothing, saved up, started a business with everything they had.”

Organizations eligible for the funding include federally certified community development financial institutions, cities, the Minneapolis Community Development Agency and the St. Paul Housing and Redevelopment Authority. Under the legislation, those organizations would develop their own local economic relief programs to aid the impacted areas. Organizations would also have to establish and meet performance measures that would be monitored by the Department of Employment and Economic Development.

With no Senate companion, however, the path forward for SSHF37 appears murky. No Republicans on the House jobs panel voted in support of the bill Friday, and Rep. John Koznick (R-Lakeville) said he had concerns the legislation doesn’t address public safety issues in the impacted areas.

“One of the things I see that’s missing … is addressing the security concerns that the business owners have, that their employees have,” he said. “Certainly there are concerns with security, safety in those areas that still remain [weeks after the unrest].”

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