The Potluck

Minnesota Housing announces Friday deadline for emergency rental assistance

By: - January 25, 2022 2:37 pm

Minnesota Housing Commissioner Jennifer Ho announces provides an update on the state’s emergency rental assistance program on Jan. 25, 2022.

Minnesota Housing will stop accepting new applications for emergency rental assistance on Friday at 9 p.m., having nearly depleted the $518 million the state received through two federal COVID-19 relief packages.

“My heart is heavy today, knowing the hardship that households across the state are still facing,” Housing Commissioner Jennifer Ho said during a Tuesday news conference announcing the deadline. “But the truth of the matter is that we’re running out of federal dollars.”

News that the state has nearly run out of emergency funding comes as both the number of applications for assistance and the amounts requested are increasing. Ho said she expects rental assistance applications in January to exceed May 2021 as the highest application month.

Renters who are behind on rent may request up to 18 months of assistance, which can include an additional month of upcoming rent.

Renters who have pending applications will be protected from eviction for not paying rent until June 1, but they still need to attend court hearings if they are served with an eviction notice. Minnesota Housing has sent staff members to housing court and has provided information in 1,290 eviction cases since the state began rolling back the eviction moratorium last year, Ho said.

The state has paid out nearly $350 million since the state began sending out checks in May 2021 to help pay rent and utility bills for Minnesotans who have lost income as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Ho said her agency plans to pay out $450 million in total in direct assistance by the time they run out of federal funds.

Administrative costs will eat up the remaining $68 million, along with an additional $7 million the state allocated to pay for administering the assistance. Some funds could also go toward programs that help people stay in housing. The federal government authorized states to spend 10% of the funds on administrative costs in the first relief package and 15% in the second package.

Large metro counties and Native tribes in Minnesota received roughly $155 million to distribute on their own through the two federal COVID relief packages and may still have funds to distribute, but the state does not have data on how much of those funds have been spent.

State Senate Housing Finance and Policy Chair Rich Draheim, R-Madison Lake, issued a statement blasting Minnesota Housing for providing just three days notice of the program closing.

“From a shaky rollout to this abrupt closure, Commissioner Ho has mismanaged RentHelpMN every step of the way. A month ago, we could see the program running out of money and the need to have a plan in place that gave adequate notice to Minnesotans. And now, Commissioner Ho has manufactured a crisis that could have been avoided,” Draheim wrote.

House Democrats issued a statement renewing their pitch for a bill that would create a permanent rental assistance program for all low-income Minnesotans who pay more than a third of their income on rent.

“We are deeply concerned that many Minnesotans who need rental assistance will be left behind by the abrupt closure of RentHelpMN. The need is still immense and will persist even if rental assistance dollars go away,” Rep. Mike Howard, DFL-Richfield, wrote in a statement.

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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.