State and Federal Update: Energy Equity, Surplus, Rep. Howard and Sen. Duckworth

Report by Hibo Ali, MHP’s Capitol Pathways intern for 2021. 

MHP hosted its fifth State and Federal Legislative Update Series of the year on March 5, 2021. MHP heard from Senator Zach Duckworth (R, 58), Representative Michael Howard (DFL, 50A), Ben Passer of Fresh Energy, and Metric Giles of Community Stabilization Project.

State Update

Vice Chair of the House Housing Finance and Policy Committee, Rep. Michael Howard, and Vice Chair of the Senate Housing Finance and Policy Committee, Sen. Zach Duckworth, discussed housing priorities for this legislative session and challenges they will face in the coming weeks.

Rep. Howard emphasized the importance of housing security and how this past year has made housing an especially pertinent policy area. Rep. Howard explained that housing is at the center of many different areas including health, economic security, racial disparities, etc. Rep. Howard explained that many challenging decisions will have to be made regarding the projected state surplus, but resources and attention should be directed toward individuals and small businesses that have been most impacted by COVID-19. Rep. Howard discussed that there are many needs within housing that must be addressed including investing in manufactured home park communities, investing in naturally occurring affordable housing (NOAH), and propping up homeownership. Because the needs in housing are so great and competition between these areas may arise, it is important that as housing advocates we advocate for “outside-the-box thinking and investing”, said Rep. Howard.

Sen. Duckworth, a newly elected member of the Minnesota Senate, discussed how critical housing policy is on “both sides of the aisle” and echoed many of Rep. Howard’s points. Sen. Duckworth explained that the surplus, while great, will have “competing interests” and housing is still certainly one of the many critical needs that should be addressed with this surplus. Addressing the needs of manufactured home park communities, propping up homeownership, and keeping rents more affordable are all included in Sen. Duckworth’s housing priorities this session.

Community Perspective

Lead director of the Energy Access and Equity division of Fresh Energy, Ben Passer, and Director of Community Stabilization Project (CSP), Metric Giles, joined MHP to discuss equity in energy and housing policy formation.

Passer provided us with an overview of the Minnesota Multifamily Affordable Housing Network (MMAHEN) and its work centering equity in energy and housing policy. Passer discussed how energy efficiency in residential properties is a win-win that benefits both renters and property owners. Passer also drew the connections of energy efficiency to “increased health and comfort, reducing potential medical expenses, and reducing costly tenant turnover”. Additionally, building owners benefit from lower maintenance costs as a result of energy efficiency in under-resourced households and multifamily housing. Finally, Passer emphasized Fresh Energy’s commitment to encouraging deeper energy efficiency for all and engaging with communities facing these barriers.

Giles gave an overview of CSP’s work and discussed the need for race equity in policy formation. Giles first touched on the wide racial homeownership gap in the state of Minnesota. Giles explained that CSP’s work centers on stabilizing people through “the relationship of renters and property owners”; they do this work through educating renters of their rights and responsibilities. CSP also actively engages with property owners to address the barriers they face renting out their units. Finally, Giles explained that racial equity can only be achieved through justice, and “justice means that we have policies that will provide opportunities for everyone”.