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Housing advocates across the state are busy educating voters and candidates about housing issues. 

Housing as an issue is hitting home for more and more Minnesotans. Encampments during the COVID19 pandemic have put a spotlight on the need for affordable homes, shelters, and housing services. Many Minnesotans are filled with anxiety as eviction and foreclosure moratoriums come closer to expiring, and households with large housing debts wonder how they’ll keep their homes. Lawmakers, perhaps sensing this anxiety,  approved the largest package of bonds for housing in the history of Minnesota ($100 million in Housing Infrastructure Bonds and $16 million in general obligation bonds) during October’s special session.

Minnesota Housing Partnership (MHP) and Homes for All MN are busy at work this election season gathering responses to the 2020 Candidate Questionnaire on Housing Issues. The questionnaire was sent to all candidates for Minnesota House and Minnesota Senate. Candidate responses are available on the MHP website (www.mhponline.org/policy/advocacy/2020-candidate-questionnaire). Dozens of candidates from the three major parties (Democratic-Farmer-Laborer, Legalize Marijuana Now, and Republican) have responded, reflecting statewide interest in housing. 

Homes for All MN members helped amplify the candidate questionnaire. Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless used their state-wide network to encourage responses. Habitat Minnesota has promoted the candidate questionnaire to its affiliates, volunteers and Habitat 500 bike ride participants. MICAH (Metropolitan Interfaith Council on Affordable Housing) sent the candidate questionnaire to thousands and encouraged its chapter/regional leaders to ask candidates to complete the questionnaire. CommonBond Communities, which owns, manages, and develops affordable homes across the state, engaged its housing advocate volunteers in asking candidates to complete the questionnaire. 

Housing partners utilized social media to encourage candidates to respond to the questionnaire, and highlighting candidate by name who have responded. To help make this quick and easy, MHP developed a promo-kit of pre-drafted content that could be cut and pasted into social media posts. MHP also hosted a twitter storm, with over twenty (20) participating organizations. As well, MHP organized a candidate engagement webinar to promote the questionnaire, with tips for non-partisan activities.  

Housing advocates have been highly active in Minnesota in 2020, using a variety of initiatives to amplify the need for solutions to candidates and voters: 

  • Many housing advocacy organizations have increased their voter engagement activities, helping make the connection between voting and home. The New American Development Center, African Career Education & Resources (ACER), and Jewish Community Action are three grassroots housing advocacy organizations actively organizing voter registration and connecting residents to voting resources. 
  • African Career Education & Resources (ACER) canvassers have worked for months reaching residents with voter registration information along with housing assistance resources. Get out the vote efforts have included pairing free produce giveaways with voting information. 
  • Catholic Charities of St Paul and Minneapolis has been leading voter outreach for staff, residents and clients at all its program sites across the Twin Cities. For individuals experiencing homelessness, including those at Catholic Charities emergency shelters and opportunity centers, activities have included encouraging early registration, educating on options to vote early in person or on election day, and ensure individuals are available to vouch for anyone who’s registration and ballot is more likely to be challenged. 
  • Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity created a Candidate Conversation Guide, encouraging its thousands of volunteers and homeowners to speak with candidates about the importance of affordable homeownership and to “Vote for Home.”  
  • Beacon Interfaith Housing Collaborative hosted multiple candidate forums on housing issues and prepared a list of suggested questions for engaging candidates on housing, engaging their dozens of member congregations in housing advocacy. 
  • CommonBond Communities joined the NLIHC Housing Providers Council, increasing its efforts to assist residents to vote.  
  • Multi-sector housing advocacy partners, who work in other areas of advocacy in addition to housing, have also increased their electoral season engagement. The Arc Minnesota, a Homes for All MN member, has been the lead partner in Rev UP MN, a group of 22 organizations focused on disability advocacy. Activities have included a mailing of 50,000 postcards, social media campaign, and questionnaire for state legislative candidates on disability issues. 

Libby Murphy, MHP's Deputy Policy Director, provides an update about the bonding bill and what it means for housing going forward.

On October 14, the Minnesota Legislature passed a $1.87 billion bonding and tax bill with overwhelming bipartisan support. Thanks to the persistence of advocates, lawmakers were forced to overcome partisan differences and finally pass a bonding bill in their fifth special session after failing to reach agreement in regular session or in the four previous special sessions.

A bonding bill requires a supermajority of lawmakers in each chamber to pass. The DFL controlled House only needed six votes. The House’s first attempt to pass a bonding bill at the end of regular session n May gained no Republican support and failed on a 75-58 vote. Last week, 25 GOP members voted in favor of the bill, securing a 100-34 vote. It passed in the Senate by a 64-3 vote.

This bonding bill includes hundreds of infrastructure improvement projects around the state, including $100 million in Housing Infrastructure Bonds (HIBS) and $16 million in General Obligation (GO) bonds for housing. HIBS will help to create and preserve roughly 500-1000 homes. The GO bonds will help maintain existing public housing units.

Calculating the impact of the bonding investment in housing is challenging because HIBs can be used for a number of eligible uses, including new supportive housing, preservation of existing federally subsidized housing, manufactured housing, and land for land trust homes. Lawmakers, hoping to do more to address persistent homeownership gaps, expanded eligible uses of HIB to build single-family homes. The Homes for All coalition’s request to add “deeper affordability” to build units for households at or below 50% of AMI without supportive services did not make it into the final package.

The bill also included some tax relief for small businesses and farmers. A regular session Senate tax bill had included 4d tax relief for affordable housing while the original House tax bill included a provision to capture $4 million annually of the mortgage registry and deed taxes to fund the Workforce Homeownership and Affordable Housing Program. This capture was included in some special session House and Senate proposals but lawmakers, ultimately, excluded the provision from the final bill.

For the first time, the bonding bill included several “Equity Appropriations” that allocate money for communities that have been left out of the funding process in the past. There are also provisions aimed at ensuring local governments follow the state’s workforce participation goals and equal-pay protections for communities of color and women.

The bonding bill also includes $4.5 million in bonds for a Perspective Family Center in St. Louis Park. These funds can be used for a variety of purposes to support the welfare of homeless children, including supportive housing.

While it could be months before the infrastructure projects financed by the new bonds will get underway, passage of this bonding bill is a relief to housing advocates. More projects that applied to Minnesota Housing for funding in July and who applied in hopes of new and robust state investments will be able to move forward as a result of this bill.

Check out Session Daily for a summary of what is in the bill

Minnesota Housing Partnership submitted a comment on Monday, Sept. 21 to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development urging withdrawal of a rule that would sanction discrimination in shelters for people experiencing homelessness. View MHP’s comment here.

“MHP recognizes that the proposed rule change is a part of the current administration’s ongoing efforts to limit the rights and protections for the LGBTQ+ community, particularly transgender people,” wrote Elizabeth Glidden, MHP’s Director of Strategic Initiatives and Policy. “This Proposed Rule would strip protections for transgender and gender non-conforming people seeking HUD-funded shelter and is rooted in harmful and dangerous stereotypes about transgender persons, particularly transgender women.”

“We urge that this proposed rule change be withdrawn in its entirety.”

The rule change was published on July 24 and is titled, “Making Admission or Placement Determinations Based on Sex in Facilities Under Community Planning and Development Housing Programs.” It provides a list of ways for shelters to turn away transgender and gender expansive people. 

“This proposed rule would grant single-gender shelters permission to close their doors to transgender people experiencing homelessness, an unacceptable result,” MHP’s comment states. ”MHP believes that moving forward with this proposed rule change is egregious and cruel, and particularly so during a global pandemic when access to housing may mean the difference between life and death.”

For more than two decades Minnesota law has protected the rights of transgender and gender expensive residents. 

“Minnesota values strengthening protections for transgender community members, not weakening them,” MHP stated.