Home advocates want lawmakers to restart and rebuild Minnesota’s halted rental assistance program. It will be a difficult sale.

Proponents of her case have been working to make the actual transcript of this statement available online. A coalition called Equity in Place wants an additional $ 330 million from the state budget surplus – or unused federal COVID response money – put into the now halted RentHelpMN.

That could be a difficult question. While replenishing the fund had the support of key housing committee leaders, the proposal did not fit into the House DFL omnibus bill that addresses housing issues. And criticism of the way the program was run by the state housing finance agency makes it unlikely that Republicans in the Senate will agree to keep RentHelpMN alive with a supply of state cash.

Proponents of her case have been working to make the actual transcript of this statement available online. The coalition’s request, which has been approved by a group of county and city council members from the twin towns, is based on the claim that there are still tens of thousands of tenants who did not receive help from RentHelp.

Margaret Kaplan

Margaret Kaplan

“Guess what? This is not a mysterious problem with mysterious solutions. Some problems you can actually put money on and it will make a big difference,” said Margaret Kaplan, president of the Housing Justice Center. “We are a prosperous state. We have a budget surplus of over $ 9 billion. We have over a billion dollars in federal funding designed to prevent some of the problems we have today as a result of COVID. “

“Hello, Governor Walz. Can you see this?” asked Lucretia Brewer of Newport directly to a camera during a press event Thursday. She told RentHelpMN, “kept me safe and housed this winter. The abrupt stop of RentHelp caused a lot of anxiety among many people I know.”

It is not the case that Walz and House DFLs do not put budget surpluses into housing programs. Walz suggested adds $ 410 million to the current two-year budget for housing programs, with the bulk – $ 100 million – aimed at preserving and improving non-public affordable housing. Walz also included $ 32 million in payout assistance and new money to prevent homelessness.

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In its capital construction plan, Walz has also proposed an additional $ 259 million in housing infrastructure bonds to subsidize new low-income housing projects and an additional $ 60 million in bonds to rehabilitate existing public housing.

That House DFL budget plan puts $ 230 million into housing and has a $ 25 million grant program for counties to provide rental assistance either directly or through nonprofit agencies. It also adds $ 100 million to existing programs, including rental coupons and Homework Starts at Home, a grant program aimed at homelessness and housing instability among students and their families.

State Representative Alice Hausman

State Representative Alice Hausman

The bill also extends the rental income tax deduction and provides new payment assistance to first-generation home buyers. “We want to reduce costs for renters and create more homeowners,” said House Housing Committee Chairman Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul. “We need both rental assistance and disbursement assistance.”

The House DFL housing budget bill represents an 183 percent increase in appropriations for this area compared to the current two-year budget passed in June last year.

However, none of the current proposals put significant money into direct rental assistance – and no one would restart RentHelpMN, which is in the process of giving away the last of the federal money sent to the states in December and April last year. An eviction ban, which now only applies to tenants with active applications to the program, expires in June.

The agency has made payments directly to landlords totaling $ 436 million, but completed applications in January. According to National Equity Atlas, which collects survey data from census and academic surveys, is 77,000 households in Minnesota lagging behind with rent payments with rents in total totaling $ 149 million. Surveys show that a disproportionate proportion of those who are behind on rent are colored (45 percent). The same survey estimates that more than half of the tenants who could be eligible did not apply for assistance.

Senate Republicans have been critical of the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency, which functioned the nearly $ 600 million federally funded rental assistance program along with the larger counties of the state, and do not want to put more money into the program. And DFLs are allocating new housing money to other programs.

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Owen Duckworth, director of organizing for The Alliance, a coalition of community organizations and advocacy groups, said money from the state and the federal government, along with the ban on most evictions, helped keep many people in their homes. But the political will to continue these programs “dissolved over the last few months,” he said.

“Unfortunately, we are at the stage of the legislative assembly where we see some of the budgets begin to be discussed in a more concrete way, and we do not see near enough resources in any of these budgets for rental assistance to the extent that we speak. about now, ”Duckworth said.

State Representative Mike Howard

State Representative Mike Howard

Rep. Mike Howard, DFL-Richfield, is one of the sponsors of a bill (House File 3667) to send $ 330 million to the housing agency. Although it went through the Housing Committee with votes from both parties, it did not end up in the same committee’s Finance Act. “I’m more frustrated that we did not quickly take steps to help with renting when RentHelp closed and we saw the extent to which people were out on one leg,” Howard said. “Funding dried up at a time when demand was actually growing.”

But the Senate gave no signal that it would be open to it, “and it felt like we had a time window” to keep the program open, which was missed, Howard said.

Howard defended the budget of the house and also pointed to other aspects that extended and simplified the tenant’s tax deduction; added down payment assistance to first-generation home buyers; and created a child care tax deduction and child tax deduction for lower-income residents.

Minnesota Budget Project, a subsidiary of the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits, called the changes in tenant’s credit “revolutionary”.

Owen Duckworth, director of organizing for The Alliance, a coalition of community organizations and advocacy groups, said money from the state and the federal government, along with the ban on most evictions, helped keep many people in their homes.

MinnPost Photo by Peter Callaghan

Owen Duckworth, director of organizing for The Alliance, a coalition of community organizations and advocacy groups, said money from the state and the federal government, along with the ban on most evictions, helped keep many people in their homes.

It is estimated that 120,000 tenants who are currently eligible but who do not claim the credit are expected to start claiming it during the new process and receive an average tenant credit of around $ 700, ”the budget project wrote. “An additional 36,000 tenants would be newly qualified and receive an average refund of about $ 400.”

State Sen.  Rich Draheim

State Sen. Rich Draheim

Late. Rich Draheim, R-Madison Lake, chairman of the Senate Housing Committee, said he is not willing to put more money into a housing finance agency that he believes abused the RentHelp program.

“That format did not work very well and was plagued by problems,” Draheim said. “If we needed to put extra money into an ongoing program, it would not be my first choice. My belief that the department is capable of running a program in a timely manner is not too great.”

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Draheim also said the economic consequences of the pandemic have diminished. “But we have to take a step back and ask, ‘Why do we need these funds when we have a record number of job openings out there?'” He said.

Draheim added that people who continue to have problems paying rent are supposed to be helped with existing housing stability programs. “What are we doing with the hundreds of millions in housing stability programs that we already have? That means our existing programs are failing. We need to unpack them. Why are the existing programs not working?”

His housing budget provides $ 50 million in additional housing funding and recast an additional $ 15 million from unused money from the two-year budget. His emphasis is on helping families own single-family homes, and he said last year’s budget adopted historic levels of housing infrastructure bonds used to subsidize non-profit housing development.

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