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

Candidate responses in italics.

Name: Heather Klassen

City/Town: Butterfield

Legislative District: 23A

Party: DFL


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

We have a critical shortage of affordable housing in District 23A in the affordable rental market. The affordable rental shortage leads to workers living out of the district and commuting for work, which has a negative impact on other areas of our local economy. It demands doubling up of renters in an underhoused situation and creates an additional burden in the rural areas due to lack of public transportation for the units that are available. We are also in need of preparing affordable housing options for our baby-boomers nearing retirement, providing options for them to move into so their houses are freed up for the next generation of the work force.

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?

I would continue to support passage of bonding bills that invest in housing infrastructure and rehabilitation of public housing, similar to what was included and passed in the 2018 bonding bill. I would also support the initiative to include senior housing options under the bonding opportunities. I would encourage the creativity of the agencies (MHA, DEED, MHP, HUD, etc.) to work together to provide ideas for additional partnerships which will optimize public and private dollars.

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?

The state needs to continue to support public-private partnerships, such as the Greater Minnesota Housing Fund, which serves all 87 counties in Minnesota through programs like the NOAH (Naturally Occurring Affordable Housing) Impact Fund, which aims to preserve naturally occurring affordable housing for seniors and low-income workers in the metro area. The program utilizes funding from the Greater Minnesota Housing Fund, along with private investors, to preserve this type of housing. In addition, they provide the Minnesota Equity Fund, which is an investment vehicle for socially-motivated investors statewide. Programs like this need to be supported statewide and are a great example of how public/private partnerships can work to fill a need that the private market alone cannot. In my district, some communities have already been actively engaged in discussions with businesses to help partner with the communities in which they reside to provide gap funding for new projects. Continued projects like these might provide future relief.

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?

Homelessness is not something that can be solved by one person, which is why I fully support the Minnesota Interagency Council on Homelessness' efforts to end homelessness in Minnesota by partnering with state & local government and non-profit agencies. The Heading Home Together Plan for 2018-2020 lays out specific goals and solutions to end homelessness. We must address all of the causes of homelessness - lack of affordable housing, chronic health conditions, lack of employment, domestic violence, mental health issues and racial inequality. I will support policies and collaborations that do that.

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?

The first step is to educate the public on what we already have available (public housing, section 8, etc.) to assist seniors and families and the impact it can have on their well-being. Most people don’t realize the money we spend on seniors’ emergency healthcare versus the cost for providing housing assistance and how we can save on their medical costs when we provide stable and safe housing for them. There are opportunities to create new (and more cost-effective) housing options for seniors as they age, and it’s time to learn from other (cities, states, countries) best practices. Likewise, we need to educate our families about the importance of prioritizing their housing stability, as it has a direct impact on their children’s future potential. Children who are behind by 3rd grade rarely catch up and earn equivalent grades, which leads to lower earning potentials as adults. We need to provide not only affordable housing, but couple it with basic education of financial literacy, health basics, and possibly homework support. Teaching families the importance of eating healthy, getting enough sleep, regular attendance in school and achieving education goals for their children should be a family affair.

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?

Income inequality is the leading driver in the homeownership gap. In 2015, white households in Minnesota reported an average income of $67,000 compared with $30,300 for blacks and $43,400 for Hispanics, according to census data. I would support policies that boost income for working families in Minnesota, and also focus on closing the opportunity gap faced by minorities in our school system. I would also encourage helping correct any inappropriate/discriminatory rental or housing practices against any minorities and enforcement of rules that currently exist. Looking at best practices in other areas and states might provide solutions not currently being considered.

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 need to focus on better education in order to reach those who need rental assistance by empowering our public agencies to actively seek out these individuals. I love the idea of every family who needs housing assistance to receive it; however, with the lack of support on the federal level, it makes this goal a larger burden on the state each passing year. The only realistic approach towards a goal of this magnitude would be approaching each angle with a team of different ideas and best practices that can work cooperatively to attack this problem. Education, healthcare, jobs, transportation, and housing will all need to work on their cross-over communication and assistance of our needs throughout Minnesota. There will not be a single solution, and a one-size-fits-all approach will not be successful. We are hard-working Midwesterners, and if we put our best and brightest to the task, it can be achieved.

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 believe a dedicated source will provide stability to those trying to plan for our current and future needs. In addition, I believe it will be important to require maximizing partnerships with the public, private and philanthropic organizations to support the commitment from the state. We are all in this together.