Deep in the Chippewa Forest in North Central Minnesota it’s hard to get online. For the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, tall, thick pines and a lack of nearby providers mean steep costs for spotty service.
“When you live in the metro, you take Internet access for granted,” Sally Fineday, a member of the tribe, says. “You don’t even realize that there are people that don’t get it and, if they do, they’ve got to pay a lot of money for service that's not as good as the urban areas.”
And remoteness isn’t the only barrier preventing many Leech Lake band members from accessing reliable Internet services. For Fineday (pictured right), Internet access isn’t simply an issue of convenience — it’s an issue of equity.
“It’s a disparity that we have just because we live on an Indian reservation in the United States of America,” Fineday says. “Indian tribes have always had the last opportunity and that’s why, for us here at Leech Lake, 48 percent of the 10,000 people within the tribal area live below the poverty level."
So, in 2013, the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe took action.
How should the state allocate its bonding resources for housing to have the biggest impact — and take full advantage of federal funds? A new proposal, supported by MHP, seeks to amend Minnesota bond statute to develop more rental housing to meet the tremendous need among low and moderate-income Minnesotans.
HAVEN is a newly formed Minnesota non-profit association conceived in late 2016 to promote "a full and public discussion of how best to support Minnesota’s urgent demand for affordable multifamily housing by making most efficient use of tax-exempt bonds and 4% low-income housing tax credits." Its current proposal would amend the state’s statute that governs use of Minnesota’s allocation of the federally authorized tax-exempt bonds. Currently Minnesota is allowed to issue approximately $550 million annually in these tax-exempt bonds. The HAVEN proposal would affect the Housing Pool, which amounted to $182 million in 2016.
During its January meeting, the board of the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency (MHFA) discussed updates at the state legislature, the statewide Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing, modifications to the downpayment and closing cost assistance program, proposed amendments to the 2018 housing tax credit Qualified Allocation Plan, funding for the Minnesota City Participation Program and more.
In her report to the board, Commissioner Mary Tingerthal focused on activity at the legislature. First, she provided an update on the housing portion of the governor’s budget. In addition to putting forward the Agency’s base budget — approximately $100 million over the two-year biennium — the governor included one-time funding for two housing initiatives.
One housing initiative included in the governor’s budget is an $8 million proposal, “Homework Starts with Home,” to address housing instability of school children. It would be a collaborative effort with the Department of Education and enlist counties and school districts. Tingerthal added that the Heading Home Funders Collaborative pledged to raise an additional $1 million in private funds for the initiative.
The second proposal from the governor is included in his racial equity initiative. The Agency would receive $2 million in downpayment assistance and counseling funds to promote home ownership targeted for households of color.
Hello from the Capitol! We're only a few weeks into the legislative session, but with the unseasonably warm weather and fast pace at the Capitol, it feels later in the year. Last year’s bonding bill is being heard in the Senate this week and we're hustling from committees to meetings to make sure every elected official knows the importance of homes for all.
Building relationships: While few bills are moving yet, the Policy team has been hard at work setting up meetings and building the relationships we’ll need when things heat up. We’ve reached out to every new lawmaker and already had more than a dozen meetings. We’ve also sat down with some key leaders in the House and Senate. Over the next few weeks, we’ll shift our focus from education of freshman legislators to meeting with key committee members to advocate for the bonding bill.
Bonding bill update: There’s still no consensus on whether a bonding bill will pass this year. But after encouraging meetings on both sides of the aisle, we have no reason to be pessimistic — though we’ll need to push hard to make sure housing is a priority. The Homes for All coalition has secured Sen. Senjem to be the chief author of its bonding bill for $100 million and is working to secure a House sponsor. Sen. Senjem also has introduced SB 210, a bonding bill that includes $45 million for housing and is very similar to the compromise bonding bill from the end of the 2016 legislative session. This bill is being heard in the Senate Capital Investment committee this week and has bipartisan support. We're optimistic it will pass the Senate.