MHP Update features state lawmakers, Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, NLIHC

MHP’s Deputy Policy Director, Libby Murphy, gives this recap of MHP’s State and Federal Legislative Update from Jan. 22.


As part of Minnesota Housing Partnership’s (MHP) biweekly state and federal legislative update series, MHP heard from Representatives Kaohly Her (DFL, 64A) and Aisha Gomez (DFL, 62B), community leader Melanie Benjamin, as well as National Low Income Housing Coalition’s Vice President of Public Policy, Sarah Saadian.

State Update
House Majority Whip Kaohly Her and Chair of the newly formed Preventing Homelessness Division, Rep. Aisha Gomez, joined MHP to discuss their housing priorities for the 2021 legislative session.

Rep. Her emphasized her support for housing policy calling it the “center of the intersection” of education, healthcare, and job opportunities. Rep. Her discussed her previous support for housing bills in the last biennium and laid out her current priorities. Some of these priorities from the last biennium carried over to his legislative session and include tenant protection, repealing certain requirements around housing tax credits, and appropriating money for housing mediation for eviction protection. When asked how we ensure that we don’t move forward in this legislative session with a deficit mindset, Rep. Her explained that since costs are inevitable, it is best that the bill is footed on the front end. Rather than spending money on the back end through emergency shelters, emergency medical care for unhoused folks, and other emergency sources, Rep. Her explained that providing affordable housing from the beginning is much more fiscally sound and easier to achieve.

Rep. Gomez, who is also in her second term of the Minnesota House, reiterated many of Rep. Her’s points. Rep. Gomez  said she hopes that with recent increased visibility of those experiencing homelessness, resources can be brought to serve those communities. Speaking on homelessness, Rep. Gomez explained that it is undoubtedly the result of “policy choices and benign neglect.” Rep. Gomez said she hoped that she can listen to folks facing these issues with her newly created committee in order to properly respond to their concerns. This, along with tenant protection, investing in public housing, increasing access to homeownership for BIPOC Minnesotans, and addressing the eviction crisis (especially affecting BIPOC communities) are all on Rep. Gomez’ list of priorities this legislative session. Rep. Gomez was also asked how we ensure that we don’t move forward in this legislative session with a deficit mindset. Rep. Gomez emphasized the importance of not buying into the idea that we don’t have enough money to allocate to these much-needed policy efforts; she further explained that coming into a legislative session with a deficit mindset will almost always result in budget cuts on the “backs of our communities” (BIPOC, children, those in poverty). 

Community Perspective
Melanie Benjamin, Chief Executive of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, spoke about some of the unique challenges faced by Indigenous communities. Since the 1990s, the Mille Lacs Band has focused on providing more housing opportunities for members on and off reservation land. Despite working closely with HUD, the Band received limited investments and was only able to build five houses per year. That pace was not keeping up with demand so Band leadership decided to allocate a percentage of its revenue to housing, which gave the Band an opportunity to provide low-interest mortgage loans to members. Despite these efforts, many members struggled to get loans to help build new housing because they could not secure conventional loans for property built or held on trust land. These barriers have contributed to the fact that the Mille Lacs Band has over 300 people on its housing waiting list. In an effort to serve as many members as possible, the Mille Lacs Band has often focused its homeownership efforts on building and owning property off of reservation land. Chief Executive Benjamin said she hopes new legislation from U.S. Senator Tina Smith that passed in December will help address some of the Tribe’s issues with securing loans and mortgages.

Chief Executive Benjamin also highlighted how a negative relationship with a county can have hugely consequential impacts on the tribal governments. A negative law enforcement agreement led to significant issues that have created additional barriers and diverted resources for the Mille Lacs Band.

Federal Update

Sarah Saadian, Vice President of Public Policy at the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) gave an optimistic prediction for what to expect in the coming weeks and months from Biden Administration. Sarah emphasized that Biden’s first focus will be too undue damage done to fair housing and civil rights. While one of Biden’s first actions was to extend the eviction moratorium, Sarah mentioned that NLIHC will continue to work with the CDC to improve upon the existing moratoriums shortfalls.

NLIHC also anticipate adjustments to the guidance on $25 billion in emergency rental assistance (ERA) program that passed in December. arah noted that NLIHC sent a letter to U.S. Department of the Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Designate Marcia Fudge outlining concerns with the Trump Administration’s Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) on the ERA program. ERA allocations are expected to go out to states and local governments this week. NLIHC and other, including MHP, are concerned that the Trump guidelines require burdensome documentation and other barriers that will make it difficult to serve lowest income rents and will slow down the rollout of these funds.

Sarah also noted that things are moving quickly on another COVID relief package. Biden’s proposal would spend another $25 billion on rental assistance, $5 billion on utility assistance, and $5 billion on homelessness assistance. NLIHC will push the administration and Congress to support an additional $28 billion in ongoing vouchers and support an acquisition fund to create more permanent affordable housing as part of the next relief package.

Even more long term, NLIHC is optimistic that the Biden Administration will be able pass funding for universal vouchers, which was included in the Biden campaign platform. Sarah underscored the COVID pandemic makes clear the gaps in safety net programs that need to be fixed so the country is better prepared for future disasters.  Additionally, NLIHC will prioritize major investments infrastructure to build more and preserve homes. A budget process known as Budget Reconciliation would allow the U.S. Senate to pass a budget with a simple majority (51 votes) vs the standard 60 votes.