“It’s so important that we remember that housing has historically been a bipartisan issue,” Minnesota Housing Commissioner Jennifer Ho told a crowd of more than 130 people at MHP’s February Investors Council breakfast. “Turns out that regardless of your politics, you need a home.”
Ho’s remarks came as part of the Investors Council’s Action for Homes on Feb. 13 where affordable housing advocates and professionals gathered to learn more about what’s ahead in the 2020 legislative session at the Minnesota Capitol.
“The housing shortage is threatening what’s happening with our economy,” Ho added. “We are losing our competitive advantage. I was up in Thief River Falls with Sen. Mark Johnson. Digi-key and Polaris need housing. They have the jobs. They want to expand but need housing. It’s become a top tier issue.”
“Incremental investments aren’t going to get us there. We’ve got to go big.”
Anne Mavity, MHP’s executive director, highlighted the opportunities and challenges ahead.
“We have an enormous opportunity facing us in affordable housing right now. Housing has hit the front pages and that’s good and bad,” she said. “It means that employers are feeling the pinch where they can’t attract employees because of the of lack of affordable housing. Students don't always have a place to do their homework. It means the folks that are taking care of our kids -- that are taking care of my mom today -- they can be working full time and not afford an average apartment, frankly, anywhere in the state.”
“We are in a moment of opportunity and we need to take advantage of that and think big and think transformationally.”
Acooa Lee Ellis of the Greater Twin Cities United Way moderated a panel discussion between House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, Assistant Minority Leader Sen. Jeff Hayden, Sen. David Senjem,, and Rep. Tama Theis.
Rep. Winkler gave the crowd his assessment of the potential success of housing initiatives at the Minnesota Capitol in 2020.
“We have a long-term commitment to addressing the housing affordability crisis that is growing in Minnesota and growing at all levels and it’s not just homelessness, not just supportive housing, it’s not just starter housing, it is all the way up and down the scale, and having a lot more supply is essential to solving that problem. It’s a long term challenge. But it’s not going to be an easy year for making major progress.”
Hayden talked about the propensity for lawmakers to set an artificial line in the sand when it comes to bonding, and that a bonding bill has to be enough to impact the housing crisis.
“We really do need a bonding bill that is sufficient. And I know that Sen. Senjem and Rep. Mary Murphy are working on that. It’s important to bond at a level that makes sense, instead of saying it’s got to be a ‘number’ and nothing else.”
Rep. Tama Theis laid out the reality in rural areas of Minnesota.
“In our community and in some of the other rural communities, workforce housing is huge for us. we don’t have enough houses…. We need to make this a priority and bring it more up front. We have these dialogues about why housing is so expensive in Minnesota. We need to get to the point that we build more homes and that people can afford them. We have so many jobs to fill and no homes for people to go to. When housing doesn’t do well, the economy doesn’t do well.”
Sen. David Senjem said that government must play a role in creating enough homes for Minnesota to be great.
“We work every year to build this state to be a little better, to have this great Minnesota that we want,” he said. “About 10 or 15 years ago we began to realize: This whole issue of housing is real. Somehow the cost of housing has outstripped the ability of people to pay for it. Somehow the government has to intervene whether it’s Housing Infrastructure Bonds or rehab with apartments or tax credits whatever the case may be. There has to be a role for the government to help.”
At the close of the event, Sen. Senjem signed on to a bill for $500 million in housing bonds. This bill is a priority Homes for All coalition and MHP. Thank you Sen. Senjem!
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