The Potluck

Minnesota Democrats renew call for guaranteed rental assistance ahead of 2022 legislative session

By: - January 18, 2022 1:56 pm

Minnesota state Rep. Michael Howard, DFL-Richfield, announces plans to reintroduce a bill to provide rental assistance to all low-income Minnesotans who need it on the steps of the state Capitol in St. Paul on Jan. 18, 2022. Photo courtesy of Dylan Novacek with Beacon Interfaith Housing Collaborative.

Democratic lawmakers and their nonprofit allies are calling on the state Legislature to use part of its $7.7 billion budget surplus to pay for the so-called “Bring It Home, Minnesota” bill that would provide rental assistance to all low-income residents paying more than they can afford in rent.

Minnesota state Rep. Michael Howard, DFL-Richfield, and Sen. Kari Dziedzic, DFL-Minneapolis, announced in front of the state Capitol on Tuesday that they plan to reintroduce bills for the third year in a row that would provide assistance to all households that qualify for federal aid but don’t receive it.

Currently, the federal government only provides funding for ongoing rental assistance through programs like Section 8 to about a quarter of households that are eligible, resulting in years-long waiting lists for assistance and hundreds of thousands of families statewide paying more than a third of their income on rent.

“No single policy initiative that we’ll discuss at the Capitol this session could do more to end homelessness than this one,” Howard said on Tuesday. “There is something perverse about having a $7 billion surplus while there are Minnesotans sleeping out in the cold.”

Even with a large surplus — which will be substantially diminished by soaring inflation — the bill is unlikely to fare better this session with a Republican-controlled Senate than in previous years.

Minnesota has been flooded with rental assistance funding through two federal COVID-19 relief packages that together sent some $673 million to the state. Minnesota Housing has paid out more than $333 million of that assistance for rent and utilities as of Jan. 6.

But renters and advocates worry about when that funding runs out.

Theresa Dolata, a Minneapolis renter, said she spends 72% of her income on rent and has been on a waiting list for Section 8 housing for years.

“I wonder if I’ll ever get help,” Dolata said.

Last year, the state’s Legislative Budget Office estimated it would cost $1.1 billion a year to provide rental assistance to Minnesota households that pay more than 30% of their income on rent and earn less than half the area median income — about $36,200 for a single person or $51,700 for a four-person household in the Twin Cities.

The nonpartisan LBO estimated the law would help more than 220,000 renter households with an average subsidy of $408 a month.

If passed, the bill would more than quadruple state general fund spending on housing, which was about $255 million last year. If the bill became law, housing would comprise roughly 4.5% of the state’s budget.

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Max Nesterak
Max Nesterak

Max Nesterak is the deputy editor of the Reformer and reports on labor and housing. Previously, he was an associate producer for Minnesota Public Radio after a stint at NPR. He also co-founded the Behavioral Scientist and was a Fulbright Scholar to Berlin, Germany.