Now more than ever, we need a plan for housing

apartment building
An apartment building in St. Paul, Minnesota in February 2020. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer

It’s never been more apparent how much home matters.

As we share this extraordinarily challenging, disruptive time, can we all agree that home is a vital foundation to a strong life and strong society? Can we see that we all benefit when everyone has a home?

It’s often in moments of disruption that we catch a glimpse of what could be. In this moment, we can lean into the change our community needs to be truly healthy and vibrant for all. Our housing system isn’t sustainable. It isn’t working for many of us. But what if it could? 

What if — in the midst of all this disruption — we could look toward the horizon and find a way where every Minnesotan has the dignity of a stable home?

Because right now, we don’t. Before the pandemic, 550,000 Minnesotans lived in households in which more than 30% of their income goes toward rent. 550,000 — and that number has certainly increased. This is a concern in every corner and demographic of our state. It’s especially bruising for Black and Indigenous households due to historic inequities. While one-in-five white households pay more than half their income toward rent, that number rises to one-in-three for both Indigenous and Black families.

As CEO of Beacon Interfaith Housing Collaborative, I see the benefit of stable homes daily. The nearly 100 congregations of Beacon create homes, shelter families and change systems so all of us have access to home. When we come together to ensure home is an option for everyone, we all benefit. 

Collectively, we’re taking good steps in that direction. But we need to do more.

The rent is still due and landlords need rent to pay bills. So Beacon, with the Homes For All coalition, is calling for $100 million to provide emergency rent assistance. This stop-gap supports people affected by the COVID-19 crisis, and we call on our state elected officials to lead in passing this funding quickly. 

But what about that horizon? What about that Minnesota where each of us can rest assured in the stability of home?

“Bring It Home, Minnesota” proposes a state rent subsidy program to pay the difference between what a family can afford and the fair market rent, which is what a landlord needs to provide a well-maintained and well-managed property. 

Our state currently invests less than 1% of the budget on housing. Spending just 4% of the budget would not only end homelessness but provide 550,000 Minnesotans with the stability of home. This proposal was put forward in a bill in the Minnesota House and Senate and received widespread support from housing advocates, landlords, cities and counties.

We can see the difference having a home means during this pandemic. Can we also see the difference affordable rents would mean for our shared future? Imagine the educational impact if nearly 17,000 of our students didn’t experience homelessness each year. Imagine the impact on families if a single mom didn’t have to work 60 hours a week to pay the rent. Imagine the impact on small town employers if workers could afford a home within 10 miles of their job.  

During this time of disruption, we see our interconnectedness. My health is dependent on your health, your well-being is connected to mine. We all benefit when we all have a home.

I believe true leadership looks to the future – out to the horizon. If you get seasick on a boat going through a storm, the advice is “look to the horizon.” If you focus on the rocking of the ship or the rolling waves, you’ll only get sicker. But by looking to the horizon, you orient yourself to the one constant, and you regain equilibrium by knowing where you are in relationship to the broader world. We call upon state leadership — while they are navigating the current storm — to also look to the horizon and champion a proposal that brings us to a more stable place than we were before.

Now is the time for bold leadership to create the Minnesota of the future, the Minnesota we want to hand our children. A Minnesota where all people have a home. We need to bring it home, Minnesota.