At Minnesota Housing Partnership’s Investors Council virtual breakfast meeting on March 25, 2021, Anne Mavity, Executive Director of MHP, welcomed a dynamic presentation and panel to address the topic of “Prosperity for All: The Role of Housing.” Specifically, Mavity asked ”How do we move beyond business as usual towards more bold and equitable outcomes, to create a more equitable housing market?”
“We are in a moment of enormous challenges, but also in a moment of enormous opportunity,” she said.
Each speaker addressed the opportunity and the question posed by Mavity. Introductory remarks were provided by Minnesota Housing Commissioner, Jennifer Ho. A keynote address was provided by Gary Cunningham, President & CEO of Prosperity Now and he was then joined by panelists Vihar Sheth, Senior Vice President & Director of Business Development – Equity & Affordable Housing for U.S. Bank and Nawal Noor, Founder & CEO of Noor Companies.
Minnesota Housing Commissioner Jennifer Ho started by sharing the bold and equitable solutions generated by State of Minnesota and the Federal Government. The Agency has worked on the Qualified Allocation Plan by shifting points and updating language, and they have seen it play out by giving more points to applications submitted by black, indigenous, and people of color, as well as women. Minnesota Housing has brought in equity experts for their Leadership team to help them think about how they do the work and ask important questions about equity as they design new stimulus programs.
The Agency also has policy bills on the table around Tenants Rights, which Commissioner Ho described as, “kind of a new space for the Agency,” with the firm belief that there should not be discrimination based on source of income and that there should be a slightly longer process for evictions. Moreover, there should be time given to people to access the COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance Program.
Finally, at the federal level, Commissioner Ho is optimistic about the position of Senator Tina Smith as the Chair of a key Senate Banking Subcommittee that oversees important aspects of the nation’s housing, transportation and community development policies.
Next, Mavity introduced keynote speaker, Gary Cunningham, President & CEO of Prosperity Now, located in Washington, D.C. He provided the audience with grounding in the lens of racial homeownership disparities and cost-burden disparity statistics, as well as the importance of homeownership in an asset building framework. He also proposed some bold solutions and policy recommendations to expand affordable housing:
- Reinstate the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Rule
- Expand Housing Choice Vouchers to Fully Meet the Need
- Expand and Leverage Existing Public Resources to Further Encourage the Development of Affordable Housing
- Reform Existing Upside-down Housing Tax Incentives
Cunningham also highlighted that Prosperity Now has specific federal policy proposals that will shift the current housing policy that would make housing a right, not just a privilege. Prosperity Now’s Pathway to Housing for All includes a pathway from supporting renters to supporting homeownership.
- Phase 1: Low-Income Renters’ Credit
- Phase 2: Downpayment-Builder Matched Savings Program
- Phase 3: First-Timer Homeowners’ Credit
- Phase 4: Homeowners Post-Purchase Tax Credit
Next, in response to Cunningham’s remarks, Vihar Sheth, Senior Vice President & Director of Business Development – Equity & Affordable Housing at U.S. Bank, provided an update on his work and the Bank’s bold solutions. Specifically, his team has been trying to re-orient business through an anti-racist lens based on a racial equity agenda they have recently developed.
Nawal Noor, Founder & CEO of Noor Companies, then delivered robust commentary on her background in the corporate arena and the affordable housing space, as well as her bold equity solutions.
Noor said that from her corporate background she learned the importance of action versus solely talking about the challenges of housing disparities.
“It takes partnerships and transparency,” Noor said.
She applauded Minnesota Housing for their work in revising their Qualified Allocation Plan. Noor also suggested that construction innovation needs to take place in terms of “partnerships between architects, funders, and builders in order to eliminate inefficiencies in the design, material selection, training, constructability of the project, and workforce development.”
“Those partnerships are so crucial to be able to change the trajectory of where we are today.”
The panel ended with a question distilled by Mavity from comments and questions posed by the Zoom audience of more 100 people.
“What are the tools, legislation, and structural changes that would be most impactful in moving the ball forward?” one audience member asked.
Vihar Sheth responded that the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program has become the “core element” of trying to solve all of our issues. He continued by saying that instead of throwing more resources at the program, we need to design modern programs to address old and new issues. Cunningham answered the question by stating that we need to re-imagine and re-design the Community Reinvestment Act and to think bigger and bolder about the solutions.
Cunningham closed by saying that, “Solutions that we had in the past won’t address the problems that we have today.”
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