Take the 2021 budget survey today - and more updates from Ward 4



(651) 266-8640  |  ward4@ci.stpaul.mn.us

Hamline-Midway  |  Union Park |  Saint Anthony Park

Macalester Groveland | Como



Dear Neighbor, 


As our Council heads into the 2021 budget cycle, I want to hear from you. Since joining the Council in 2018, this is the most challenging budget year I’ve experienced. One surefire way you can inform the citywide budget process is to take the 2021 budget survey today.


The 2021 budget survey requests formal feedback on Mayor Carter’s proposed budget and is used by the entire City Council to gather input across the city between now and December. I shared some initial thoughts on the budget proposal here, and will be digging into the details for weeks with my colleagues through department presentations and community engagement.



Our city needs our help more than ever. We are facing rising unsheltered homelessness and housing instability, and our unhoused neighbors deserve safe and permanent shelter as well as compassionate services while experiencing homelessness. Our community has taken steps over two years, which I’ve been proud to help lead and be a part of, on evolving our public safety model away from traditional policing and toward a more holistic approach that addresses the root causes of instability. Our neighborhood businesses are struggling to hold on after both months of COVID-19’s challenges and the unrest of the uprisings. As the pandemic has demonstrated, outdoor spaces, places and amenities for people to recreate are a public health imperative. We need to keep up the work to expand bike/pedestrian infrastructure and maintain public spaces, while investing in our parks and rec centers that families are more reliant on than ever. These are just some of the many great needs across our community that the City of St. Paul works hard to fulfill, each and every day.


As I prepare for the decisions ahead, there are also reasons to celebrate. In July we unanimously passed the most comprehensive and far-reaching tenant protections policy in the state, thanks to the righteously relentless advocacy of a large grassroots coalition of fair housing community partners and advocates, our Council colleagues, the Mayor’s Office of Financial Empowerment and PED staff, and all of you - who want to see a city where everyone has a home, no matter what your situation is. It was one of my greatest points of pride as a Councilmember to lead this legislative process, and I am endlessly grateful to all the community members who raised their voices to stand against housing discrimination and for renters’ rights. You can learn about the ordinance here (effective March 1, 2021) and stay connected to the next phase of work with the implementation committee’s community education effort.


Lastly, I was grateful for the chance to speak with Fred Melo of the Pioneer Press in August about the work I see ahead for our community, the efforts to rebuild the Midway and our neighborhoods hit by unrest, and the transformation we must seek if we ever want to achieve what Rev. Dr. MLK, Jr. described as true peace in the form and presence of active justice. Our full interview is here, and I’ll continue listening to and learning from all of you as we work together for the city we believe in.





I hope these updates are helpful to you, and we can always be reached as a full team at ward4@ci.stpaul.mn.us.






One of my top priorities is to make our city more accessible for our residents, including holding regular office hours around the Ward. Please come share your ideas, feedback, questions, concerns and aspirations for our city. Following up on our previous “virtual office hours”, we will do a repeat of them to continue to ensure safety and social distance in the pandemic. In general, we post upcoming office hours to the Ward 4 office’s Facebook and Twitter, so follow along there for future sessions.


The following two upcoming *online* office hours are open to all, and all are welcome - we’ll post the link to our Twitter and Facebook and field questions as they come:

  • Thursday, Sept. 24 from 11:30AM to 12PM on Twitter
  • Tuesday, Sept. 29 from 6:00 to 6:30PM on Facebook

Follow our office social media channels on Facebook and Twitter to find out how to submit questions and follow along. We can also be reached anytime as an entire office at ward4@ci.stpaul.mn.us.





2021 City Budget

Recently Mayor Carter unveiled his proposed 2021 Budget. In such tough economic times, the Mayor has proposed keeping the property tax levy flat in order to reduce the impact felt by residents across the city. A flat levy, combined with reduced revenue from things like local sales tax, parking meters, and other fees means a lot of tough choices will have to be made regarding our programming and public services.


One item in particular that is desperately needed is more investment in our homelessness response. The Mayor has proposed investing a significant portion of St Paul’s share of the federal CARES act COVID relief dollars into more permanent homes, shelters, and solutions for those experiencing homelessness and we will be working closely with the mayor’s office to ensure those resources are deployed as quickly and effectively as possible.


The entire rest of the year will be spent going over each and every department’s budget during our City Council committee meetings each week. You can tune in live at 10AM each Wednesday or watch them on demand on the city website. If you want to dig into the Mayor’s proposed budget in greater detail, that can also be found online. Any feedback, questions, or suggestions you might have can be emailed to our office at ward4@ci.stpaul.mn.us. The official 2021 budget survey can also be taken between now and December 2020 here.


Homelessness and housing as a human right

There are estimated to be about 350 people experiencing homelessness across many different encampments both in Ward 4 and across the city. You may have seen media coverage of the city’s largest encampment near Kellogg. We need to find solutions for everyone in the encampment and everyone experiencing unsheltered homelessness in our city. I am personally greatly concerned by the city’s decision to issue notices to vacate to those living in the encampment without a clear plan in place to rehouse individuals with the services they may also need, and I have been in communication with organizers and social services providers supporting people at the encampment, our own city administration and Ramsey County to create that plan, so that together we can work toward solutions for our neighbors experiencing the everyday emergency of unsheltered homelessness. My office would like the city and county to keep working together providing interim support until we can find stable housing for the folks currently there. Governor Walz and the state legislature also need to significantly increase the resources our county partners depend on to meet the needs of individuals experiencing homelessness, and I am using my position as a Councilmember to advocate directly to the Walz administration in concert with Ramsey County to meet our moral obligation to provide housing as a human right.


It is a symptom of a much bigger failure at all levels of government that so many in our community and across the state continue to experience homelessness. We must do our part to keep vulnerable people safe and sheltered in a pandemic, where having a secure home is the biggest factor in reducing somebody’s exposure to COVID-19. Our everyday land use decisions at the city about zoning, planning and development heavily shape the housing market reality in our region, and the city must use the full force of its powers to tackle the shortage of homes in our capitol city.


Conduit bonds: what are those? And charter school requests at the HRA

A recent request for conduit bonds for the Hmong College Prep Academy raised some community concerns. While I spoke against issuing the bonds and did not vote in support of them, it did ultimately pass. I wanted to share some context for the broader issues at play here.


While conduit bonds are not city dollars, they are a type of financing an institution like a charter school can apply for to make capital improvements with a sponsor under state law. The City of Saint Paul can be a sponsor, and currently acts as effectively a pass-through for those requesting bonds. Each request has to get approved at the Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA) which is our full Council acting as the HRA. Historically and presently, charter school requests like these for bonds incur secondary costs on our community through additional land use requests as the projects evolve - like developing parking solutions and other issues on the sites, the staff time incurred to process each conduit bond request and resulting issues, the impacts to the tax base our residents depend on for services through loss of industrial zoned property and land, and more.


I also share the concerns made by many community advocates and some of our colleagues on the St. Paul Public Schools board that through facilitating charter operations and expansion with conduit bonds, this puts increasing pressure on funding challenges for our public schools as districts nationally are searching for solutions for equitable schools in a global pandemic.


I think the community is right to ask fair questions about what public benefit we get from these types of approvals, the impacts on SPPS, including impacts to enrollment, funding and more. Ward 4 has also seen more than its fair share of charter school growth and presence in part due to its formerly industrial land uses that leave space large enough for these institutions. As a Councilwoman for this area, former organizer with our St. Paul teacher’s union and classroom teacher myself, I felt a direct responsibility to raise these questions as a Housing and Redevelopment Authority Commissioner.


While the school’s conduit bond request passed with a divided 4-3 vote, our entire HRA agreed that in order to make meaningful decisions on any requests like this in the future, and to curb expansion of charter facilities that raise equity questions for SPPS, we would not approve any new expansions or similar requests until we receive review of some key information from HRA staff. This review or study should include: 


  • The impacts charter expansion has had on the tax base in St. Paul 
  • Options for restricting future charter school expansion, including zoning changes, requiring a conditional use permit for operation or expansion of a school, and other ideas  
  • Whether and how we can issue a cap on the amount of bonds the city sponsors for charters so that there is effectively a limit on charter expansion in our community 
  • And other topics to be determined by the HRA/Council.


As an HRA and Councilmember I am responsible not just for sound land use policy that maximizes a benefit to our community, but the general health and wellbeing of our residents who depend on St. Paul Public Schools every day. I recognize that for many families, especially families of color, charter schools are often a way for students to receive a culturally affirming education and that this has driven interest in charters for many years across the Twin Cities. While recognizing this reality, I ultimately strongly believe that our goal should be an outstanding, well and equitably funded public education school system that is academically rigorous and culturally competent. I am proud to work closely with our hardworking partners at the SPPS board, SPFE and the broader SPPS community every day to do my part in this effort, and addressing charter impacts through a review of conduit bonds is an important step to take.


RM Zoning Changes (more terms that aren’t self-explanatory, explained here!)

This coming week, the City Council is expected to approve improvements to our RM zoning citywide. Different kinds of zoning allow different scales and uses of buildings throughout the city. RM zoning, in particular, is designed to allow mid-size multifamily buildings. But because of how the rules are written, even when a building of a certain size was allowed, you couldn’t create the number of units within that building footprint to meet the housing needs St. Paul has.


These changes, that would apply to existing RM zoning areas, won’t necessarily change the height that’s allowed, but they will allow more flexibility to add more homes on that same site. In Ward 4, that means many areas near Energy Park Drive, Raymond Ave, or University will now have greater flexibility to add desperately needed homes that fit within the scale of the neighborhood. This, combined with changes to our parking minimums that are expected to come forward next year, should lead to much more efficient use of our land and more focus on space for residents rather than overbuilt parking lots. I am looking forward to approving these improvements to the RM Zoning category so that we can continue to grow the number of homes we need to house everyone in our community.




2020 Census: did you do yours yet?

If we want our fair share of billions in federal funding for our community, we need to make sure everyone is counted in the 2020 census. You can still do your census safely and quickly at www.2020census.gov. Minnesota’s self response rate has been high, and now enumerators are out and about in our neighborhoods working to ensure everyone is getting counted.


It’s particularly difficult to count those living in apartments and multifamily housing where you need the owner or manager to let you into the building so you can talk to the residents. These renters are more likely to be people of color, under-resourced, and/or in general are the very people who are traditionally undercounted.


My office has been helping enumerators get access to those buildings and count those residents by connecting enumerators to existing public data like St. Paul’s Certificate of Occupancy information that provides basic resources like who owns the building and contact information to get in touch. Even these basic resources are not always transparently available on foot or online, which is its own problem that needs to get addressed. Once the enumerators have this info, it’s much easier to access buildings and count people.


If you still haven’t been counted, please go to 2020census.gov and fill out your basic information. It only takes a few minutes, and it has a tremendous impact.


Lastly but not leastly, I am happy to see that our Attorney General is joining the fight against efforts by the Trump administration to end census counting 1 month early. Our office will continue to help the cause through supporting enumerators, and you personally can help by asking everyone and their mother that you know to #getcounted.


Standing with impacted Midway Shopping Center businesses

Thank you to Midway Rise Up for hosting a day of action and inspiration in support of the neighborhood businesses displaced by terminations of their leases following civil unrest.


From Channel 5 News coverage of the event: “The lease terminations are a gut punch to the handful of locally-owned shops, including two restaurants. ‘It came as a surprise to me,’ said St. Paul council member Mitra Jalali, who represents the neighborhood. ‘We were really disappointed. It felt like a hurt on top of everything we'd already experienced.’ Jalali said she's heard from several stores who wanted to reopen in the Midway Shopping Center, arguing their respective spaces did not take on as much damage as others did.” Watch the full story to hear from community members and impacted businesses.




People’s Prosperity Guaranteed Income Pilot

This week, I was proud to stand with Mayor Carter as he unveiled St Paul’s guaranteed income pilot program. Led by the Office of Financial Empowerment, the People’s Prosperity Pilot will provide up to 150 Saint Paul families with $500 per month in guaranteed income for a period of up to 18 months. The projected budget of up to $1.5 million will be supported through the Mayors For Guaranteed Income national network, philanthropy and City of Saint Paul CARES funds. Households will be randomly selected from CollegeBound Saint Paul families from the city’s most racially diverse and lowest wealth neighborhoods. The first cash payments to participants are expected to start this fall.


150 households will be randomly selected from enrolled CollegeBound Saint Paul families in the city’s most racially diverse and lowest wealth neighborhoods, including the broader Midway area in Ward 4. As the program rolls out, more information can be found on the city’s website.




Midway Investment Cooperative

We need community ownership if we want to combat displacement. In case you missed it, Hamline Midway Coalition hosted a thoughtful presentation on starting a neighborhood investment cooperative to build community power through ownership in the local economy and fight commercial displacement - you can view the full conversation online.


HMC would like to gauge community interest in shaping a potential investment cooperative by and for the Midway - learn more and take their survey here to inform this early-stage effort.


A Day on the Job with the Community Ambassadors




Seen these green shirts around? Earlier this summer I got to shadow the Midway team of Community Ambassadors, a non-profit supported by the city in partnership with St. Paul Parks and Recreation that hires community members with deep city knowledge and relationships to do youth engagement in neighborhoods citywide.


Over two years now I've heard consistently from constituents that our community wants more positive presence that isn't law enforcement within neighborhoods to work with youth who may be in trouble or need something to do. The Community Ambassadors program does exactly that. Read more about our entire visit together here.


When we talk about community safety beyond policing, sometimes people want to act like they don't even know what that is. Don't worry - it's not that difficult! Great models exist that are working in St. Paul. I'm glad our city expanded funding for Community Ambassadors last year!






Absentee Voting

Voting by mail or voting reduces the demand for in person voting on election day and makes it safer for those who have to vote in person. If you plan to vote by mail and have not already requested your absentee ballot you can request a ballot by mail. You do not need to be registered to apply. If you have already applied for a General Election ballot, it will be mailed to you as soon as ballots become available.


Neighbors Helping Neighbors

Our community is facing unprecedented challenges. Serve Saint Paul: Neighbors Helping Neighbors supports a community of service in Saint Paul by connecting neighbors, community organizations, and businesses who could use a helping hand during the COVID-19 pandemic and in the wake of recent civil unrest following the tragic death of George Floyd. 


In partnership with Cities of Service and AARP, this initiative engages volunteers to safely support community members experiencing barriers to meeting some basic needs due to age, mobility, income, or other factors. Serve Saint Paul: Neighbors Helping Neighbors also supports neighborhood clean-up efforts and connects volunteers with local businesses needing fortification assembly and removal.


Working together as a community, our city will emerge stronger and more connected. Find out ways to help here.



As community events, festivals, and conversations adjust to be safely held in the pandemic, we’ll continue to share them here:




Central Honors Philando 2020

Thank you so much to the hardworking and passionate leaders of Central Honors Philando for hosting your traditionally outdoor community event online this year. If you missed the full event, you can watch it here. We must honor the memory of Philando Castile with not just words, but action, for a safer world where Black Lives Matter every day in every way.








Families First Housing Pilot

The Families First Housing Pilot provides Saint Paul families a $300 monthly rent supplement and ongoing supportive services for three years, in partnership with the Saint Paul Public Schools. For more information and to see if you are eligible, click here.


Dislocated Worker Program

The Dislocated Worker program can help people who have lost their job through no fault of their own return to work. Eligible people may qualify for the individual career planning and counseling, connection with employers who are hiring now, connection to education resources, and more. Visit CareerForceMN.com/dislocated-worker to learn more


Pay it Forward

The Saint Paul Area Chamber of Commerce, SCORE Saint Paul, the City of Saint Paul, Ramsey County, African Economic Development Solutions, Hmong American Partnership, Latino Economic Development Center, Metropolitan Consortium of Community Developers, Neighborhood Development Center, and other partners launched a call for volunteers to serve as business mentors for a new Pay It Forward Program.


Leveraging an existing business mentor model developed by SCORE Saint Paul, Pay It Forward will engage an array of volunteers with financial and business experience to support local business owners who need assistance in navigating COVID-19 grant and loan relief opportunities. Learn more here


Rebuilding Midway




We Love Saint Paul/We Love Midway provides grants to businesses impacted by the civil unrest. The grants of up to $25,000 can be used to pay for:

  • Rent or mortgage
  • Utilities
  • Insurance deductibles
  • Building repairs
  • Lost inventory
  • Cleaning or demolition services
  • Temporary relocation and/or other costs associated with repairing and rebuilding or reopening.

To learn more and to apply visit saintpaulchamber.com/welovestpaul or midwaychamber.com/we-love-midway


Twin Cities Community Rebuilding Coalition offers physical building materials and business support for businesses impacted by the civil unrest. Businesses support services include:

  • Architecture, design, real estate and/or property management
  • Business strategy and operations, corporate affairs, and/or project management
  • Human resources and/or leadership development
  • Legal, finance, and/or compliance
  • Marketing, communications, public relations and/or sales
  • Merchandising and/or product design
  • Sourcing, supply chain and/or distribution
  • Technology, data and/or analytics

To lean more and apply for assistance visit tccrc.org


SBA Disaster Loans are available to businesses and homeowners/renters who were significantly impacted by civil unrest. Loans can be used to pay for costs that were not covered by insurance. For more information and how to apply visit disasterloanassistance.sba.gov


COVID-19 Testing in the Community

You can find the most up-to-date COVID-19 testing information here.


COVID-19 Housing Assistance Program

The COVID-19 Housing Assistance Program is now accepting applications. The COVID-19 Housing Assistance Program officially launched earlier this week, making $100 million available to help prevent eviction, prevent homelessness, and maintain housing stability for eligible renters and homeowners. The program is designed to cover expenses such as rent, mortgage, utilities or other housing-related expenses that were incurred after March 1, 2020 and are past due.


Minnesotans interested in applying and learning more about the program can begin the application process by calling Greater Twin Cities United Way’s 211 Resource Helpline (Toll Free: 1.800.543.7709; Local: 651.291.0211), visiting 211unitedway.org online, or texting “MNRENT” or “MNHOME” to 898-211.) The 211 helpline has dedicated multilingual staff available to answer questions about the COVID-19 Housing Assistance Program, 8 a.m. – 8 p.m. Monday through Friday.



Ramsey County residents can now apply for TechPak, a new initiative bringing computers, internet and digital literacy training into the homes of residents who have experienced economic impacts due to COVID-19. COVID-19 impacted residents can apply during open enrollment periods. Entries are accepted online or by calling 651-266-6002 through Sept. 2 for the current enrollment period. This program is presented in partnership with Tech Dump, Literacy Minnesota, Saint Paul Public Library and Ramsey County.


Helpful COVID-19 links


We’re hard at work for our city. Have suggestions for what else you’d like to see in this newsletter? E-mail us at ward4@ci.stpaul.mn.us anytime, and thanks for reading.