At the January 2019 Minnesota Housing board meeting, board members heard from the newly appointed Commissioner, considered federal shutdown impacts, and discussed what’s ahead for Minnesota Housing in 2019.
Remarks from Commissioner Ho
Newly appointed Minnesota Housing Commissioner Jennifer Ho kicked off the meeting by sharing her appreciation for Minnesota Housing’s talented, mission-driven staff. Ho shared that as she settles into her new role, she’s taking deep dives on Minnesota Housing’s budget and bond markets to learn about how the agency allocates bonds and tax credits. She also noted that she wants to better understand risk management and mortgage credit. Ho said that while her position is externally facing, she is committed to having a strong understanding of the agency’s programs.
Ho emphasized that Governor Walz’s campaign promise of “One Minnesota” continues to drive the administration. Minnesota Housing can provide leadership in delivering that promise, Ho said, by considering racial equity, identifying which communities are most impacted by housing issues, and investing thoughtfully across the state.
Ho has worked to reach out to the public and educate the legislature by testifying in two public hearings and sitting down with Minnesota Public Radio’s Angela Davis for an hour-long interview. Ho said she’s emphasizing that even with a small appropriation from the legislature, Minnesota Housing has continued to have major impact. In her speaking engagements, Ho said she has been emphasizing that housing is important to everyone, everywhere, and to everything that we do. Her background has provided her with deep understanding of the intersections of housing with other issues including school stability, jobs, employment and healthcare. Ho said housing is also key to the Governor’s priorities around community prosperity for all communities and criminal justice reform.
Ho said that she believes ending homelessness is possible. As the state’s housing bank, Minnesota Housing focuses on the most vulnerable populations and those at the lowest incomes.
Because single-family business happens in October, the October Board meeting will likely be rescheduled to later in the month.
At the time of the meeting, Minnesota Housing was anticipating a report on the Challenge Program from the Office of the Legislative Auditor. The report was released February 8.
The February 15 roll-out of the Loan Commitment System (BOSS system) for single family work will be delayed to ensure a seamless roll-out.
The Governor’s budget
The Governor’s office will release the first budget proposal in mid-February. Minnesota Housing is making the case for key housing resources.
At the time of the meeting, the federal government shutdown was in its 34th day. Ho joined with Governor Walz, Lieutenant Governor Flanagan, Housing and Redevelopment Authorities, the Coalition for the Homeless, and others to highlight that the shutdown has caused real and serious issues. The shutdown has had impacts on Minnesota Housing, as well, including impacts to federal pass-through, and expiring federal contracts. Ho noted that in March, the Section 8 pass-through will run out of reserves.
Ho noted that information from HUD was incomplete. However, one thing the federal government had made clear was that state agencies should use their reserves to cover costs. Ho said that’s ridiculous, as most agencies are not sitting on major reserves.
Ho said her team is working hard to understand the magnitude of the impacts across the state. MN Housing Multifamily Manager, Ashley Oliver reported that the impact in terms of unpaid vouchers is $862,000 per month. If the shutdown were to continue in February, the project based vouchers impact would be up to 61 properties at $1.6 million per month.
Commissioner Ho announced that Aaron Kominsky will join Minnesota Housing to work on the consolidated RFP process. Kominsky previously worked at Project for Pride in Living. Alyssa Wetzel-Moore will serve as the new Community Development Director. Wetzel-Moore previously served the City of St. Paul as a lawyer in the Human Rights Office.
Family Homelessness Prevention and Assistance Program Guide
Minnesota Housing is developing a guide for the Family Homelessness Prevention and Assistance Program to provide better accessibility and clarity on the program. Equity is a critical focus of this effort. Minnesota Housing can now generate reports through Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) to monitor equity impacts and analyze impacts and areas of improvements, to ensure we have equitable outcomes for all populations.
Other items discussed
The board also heard updates on first time homebuyer loans, legislative scrutiny around Tax Exempt Bonds, Minnesota Housing Division workplans, and the Strategic Plan for Minnesota Housing, which will be approved in late summer or early fall.
Finally, the 2020 Affordable Housing Plan, Minnesota Housing’s annual plan, will be approved in September. The 2019 plan allocates $1.3 billion (a $200,000 increase from the previous year) to serve 69,000 households – Minnesota Housing’s highest-ever number served.