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Minnesota housing advocates want $330M to revive COVID rent aid

Evictions have spiked since RentHelpMN ended in January, according to housing advocates.

Delivering letter to Governors office.jpeg
Housing advocates deliver a letter Thursday, April 21, 2022, to Gov. Tim Walz's office at the Minnesota Capitol requesting more support for the state rental assistance program.
Contributed / The Alliance
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ST. PAUL — Housing advocates are asking Gov. Tim Walz and the Minnesota Legislature to invest $330 million in emergency rental assistance and to continue protecting renters with pending rental assistance applications from eviction.

The Alliance, a coalition of social justice groups, and local officials gathered at the Minnesota Capitol Thursday, April 21, to make their appeal and to deliver a statement to Walz’s office asking for an extension of pandemic renter protections.

The RentHelpMN program was created by the state to help renters at risk of losing their homes due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and to reimburse property owners for missed rent payments. The program, which provided tens of millions in assistance, ran out of funding and suddenly ended on Jan. 28 with just three days notice. Since Minnesota’s aid program ended, the number of eviction filings in Minnesota has spiked by 67%, according to housing advocates.

Fadumo Mohamed is a housing advocate with the nonprofit ACER, a group that works with African immigrants in the northwest Twin Cities suburbs. She told reporters during a Thursday news conference that the sudden end to the program pulled the rug from beneath the feet of low-income Minnesota renters.

“We worked frantically to help renters rushing through the unexpected deadline, but the process was too confusing for many to complete the necessary steps and paperwork in time,” Mohamed said. “The consequences of ending that critical support will have a broad and lasting impact. Those impacts will be primarily felt by low-income communities of color.”

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When the COVID-19 pandemic began, housing organizers mobilized in response to the threat of mass evictions, and the federal government responded with eviction moratoriums and by spending billions of dollars on rental assistance. Owen Duckworth, a housing organizer with The Alliance, said that, despite imperfections, the programs helped thousands of Minnesotans and should remain in place as pandemic recovery continues.

The federal eviction moratorium ended in August 2021. While Minnesota’s rental assistance program ended in January, renters with pending assistance applications are still eligible for protection until June 1, according to HOME Line, a Twin Cities-based group that provides free legal assistance to renters.

House Democrats earlier this session introduced a proposal to provide the Minnesota rent assistance program with $330 million and reinstate eviction protections for renters awaiting a response on applications. There is no companion bill in the Republican-controlled Senate, and the $330 million Democrats approved in committee earlier this session is not currently part of a larger House omnibus housing spending bill.

While the omnibus housing bill in the Minnesota House of Representatives does not call for $330 million in rental aid, it currently has a provision that would protect renters with pending rent help applications from eviction, said Mike Dahl, policy director for HOME Line.

Before the start of the 2022 legislative session, Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan proposed hundreds of millions in housing assistance in their supplemental budget recommendations, including $10 million each year to provide housing for families with young children, $95 million over three years for emergency shelter service and $19 million to the Family Homelessness Prevention and Assistance Program.

Alex Derosier covers Minnesota breaking news and state government for Forum News Service.
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