Just two days after the start of the 2018 state legislative session, lawmakers and advocates came together at Carpenters Hall to galvanize nearly 100 members of MHP's Investors Council to leverage bipartisan support at the capitol and advance affordable housing across Minnesota.
Under the theme of Strengthening our Bonds to Create Homes for All Minnesotans, MHP shared its 2018 legislative agenda — which includes $140 million for housing in the bonding bill, along with legislation incentivizing local housing trust funds and the creation of a new housing tax credit — and urged Investors Council members to get involved. Libby Murphy, MHP's Deputy Policy Director, and Tom O'Neil from Dougherty Mortgage (pictured right) emphasized the wide range of opportunities to advocate during the session, from meeting with legislators at the capitol to simply making a phone call or sending an email from the office.
Driving home the importance and impact of advocacy, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle made clear that affordable housing is a bipartisan issue.
Representative Alice Hausman (DFL- District 66A, St Paul / Ramsey County) praised the efforts of groups like MHP and the Homes for All coalition for helping to create that consensus. "The housing advocacy community has become one of the most successful advocacy groups at the capitol," she said. "You’re there and you know how to tell the story and you’ve done it so well that it’s become a bipartisan supported agenda. In the House, we can put out the call for co-sponsors [on Homes for All legislation], and the jacket is full of authors because people want to be part of the effort."
But that doesn't mean advocates' work is done, Hausman added. "We had our first billion-dollar bonding bill in 1998 and to invest in same way we should now be at $1.5 billion," she said. "But both parties are still stuck at the psychological barrier of $1 billion. So now, every year we fall a little further behind, particularly in asset preservation. We need you to give us the courage to invest in the same way we were in 1998."
Senator David Senjem (R- District 25, Rochester area) confirmed advocates' efforts have made housing a top priority for members of both parties. "We had our Republican caucus last night to discuss our priorities and the tax bill was one, but second was housing," he said. "So you’ve had an incredible message for us."
"I don’t think any legislator in the state of Minnesota doesn’t hear about housing issues when they’re back home," Senjem added. "It appears to me that housing is something the government has to be involved in for a good long time. Part of it is a societal obligation, but if we’re smart about this, if we’re going to have an active economy in Minnesota, we need workers and workers need houses. It doesn’t get simpler than that."
Senjem urged advocates to speak to that wider impact when they meet with legislators about housing this session. "We all have hearts," he said. "With the Republican caucus project your heart — but also project the economic necessity of affordable housing."
Representative Jim Knoblach (R- District 14B, St Cloud area) agreed, noting that the increase in housing challenges statewide means the issue needs to be addressed in the state's budget. "The recession knocked a lot of people out of their homes," he said. "We know wages have been somewhat stagnant for lower- and middle-income people, and there’s more and more demand for rental housing while the costs of rental housing are going up. While I’m a fan of the private sector and think it has an important role as an uninhibited builder, I also recognize the need to have some public assistance for some of this affordable housing production."
Hausman, Senjem and Knoblach all expressed their willingness to actively support Homes for All and MHP legislative priorities this session.
Mary Tingerthal, Commissioner of the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency, also shared her agency's enthusiasm to work with housing advocates, including a united efforts to secure significant funding for housing in the bonding bill. Tingerthal noted that the $100 million request for housing in the Governor's bonding proposal is the largest yet and provides a good starting point — but advocacy from diverse constituencies will be key to securing those vital dollars.
"I’d encourage you to sign up to work with MHP and Homes for All to spend a day or an hour at the capitol because it is the thing that makes a difference," she said. "They get tired of hearing from me but they never get tired of hearing from you."