Minnesota Housing Partnership Candidate Questionnaire (supported by Homes for All)

Candidate responses in italics.

Name: Liz Olson

City/Town: Duluth

Legislative District: 7B

Party: DFL


District Issues: How would you characterize the housing needs in your district, for both renters and for homeowners?

In Duluth, particularly in my district, people face major challenges in finding and affording safe and high-quality housing. Rent is rising significantly faster than people’s paychecks, making housing costs a burden on many of my constituents. For renters, who make up about 40% of my district, this is particularly true -- almost half of the people in my district spend 30% or more of their income on rent. For homeowners, things are a little better – with home values and income rising, but still almost a quarter of homeowners in the district are also paying 30% or more on housing (and this number is rising). With that in mind, I believe we need to find ways to ensure housing affordability for everyone in my district, with a particular focus on renters.

Availability of Affordable Housing: More than 25% of households in Minnesota pay more than 30 percent of their income on housing, meaning they must sacrifice in other areas like food and medicine to make ends meet. What steps will you take to encourage the production of more affordable homes?

We have to prioritize and invest in affordable housing. As we work to pass a bonding bill, we need to prioritize housing. We need to both create new rental housing where needed, but also preserve housing and promote home ownership. I believe in the power of investing in the public good – not just incentivizing private development, but also creating things like community land trusts and tenant cooperatives to build housing that works for everyone.

Workers: A full-time minimum wage worker cannot afford a one-bedroom apartment in any county in Minnesota — and many of the fastest growing jobs are in low-wage industries. What investments or policy would you champion to address the growing gap between what workers can afford and housing costs?

We need to raise the minimum wage in our state. I’m in favor of a $15 minimum wage with no exceptions for tipped workers. I’m also interested in eliminating the legislative pre-emption on rent control, which would allow municipalities to explore if a rent control option is a good one for them.

Homelessness: A lack of affordable housing options is one of the top reasons for homelessness, for individuals or families. What will you do to end homelessness in Minnesota?

I worked for many years working with people experiencing homelessness and organizing around issues of housing and homelessness. I know that the statistics about homelessness are more than just stats on a page – they represent real stress and burden on peoples’ lives. To end homelessness, we need to make multiple changes to our current communities and economy. This includes: 1) ensure that there is affordable housing in communities through investment in affordable housing, incentivizing the construction of new affordable housing, and regulations on large developers to make sure they are building affordable housing, 2) paying people a living wage, 3) providing strong public services like MinnesotaCare and MFIP so that people are not making choices between healthcare and rent, and 4) providing mental health services and support for people with chemical dependency. I am committed to looking at the problem of homelessness holistically and will work with other legislators to do the same.

Seniors and children: More than half of senior renters and more than 1 in 4 senior homeowners pay more than they can afford for housing. Meanwhile, children without stable, affordable housing have lower educational and health outcomes. What will you do to ensure housing policy and resources support Minnesota's seniors and students?

It's critical that we raise the revenue we need to provide stable and supportive housing for both seniors and children. We need money in the next bonding bill for affordable housing, and we need to support municipalities as they work to address the housing crisis in their communities. We need to raise the minimum wage and protect Medicare and Medicaid services. We should also look at community schools as a place where students can get the support they need to thrive, giving schools the resources, they need to hire counselors, social workers, and other support staff to work with our students facing housing instability.

Racial Disparities: Minnesota's racial disparities in housing are among the worst in the nation, for renters and homeowners. For instance, 22 percent of Black households are homeowners, compared to 76 percent of white households. How will you reduce the racial homeownership gap and other disparities in housing for households of color?

Minnesota’s racial disparities are the shame of our state. In housing, like so many other areas, we must work to close the gaps. This will require not just policies that “lift all boats,” and strive for equality, but policies that specifically target policies to eliminate this gap. These include supporting organizations and policies that assist in home ownership for people of color and indigenous communities, like land trust housing programs. In addition we need to provide education and opportunities for lending for homeownership that is culturally sensitive and appropriate. And at the legislature we can pass legislation to tackle predatory lending practices in our state.

Rental Stability: Rental assistance is proven to reduce homelessness, housing instability, and overcrowding, but 75% of residents who qualify for rental assistance do not receive this limited resource. What will you do to expand access to housing assistance to every household that needs it?

We must invest in renter’s assistance programs in order to make sure the programs with proven track records are able to actually take advantage of it. We need to raise revenue and put more money into this program, and we need to expand the way that we move people into these programs. We should look to people with lived experiences to help shape and guide the programs we build – they are best positioned to advise, shape, and build programs that will truly work for people.

Funding: We cannot meet our growing, statewide housing needs without significant additional resources. Will you support a dedicated source of funding for affordable housing? Why or why not?

Yes! I have and I will continue to support dedicated sources of funding for affordable housing.