State and Federal Update: Rep. Ilhan Omar gives a federal update

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

As part of Minnesota Housing Partnership’s (MHP) fourth State and Legislative Update Series on February 19, 2021, attendees heard from US Representative Ilhan Omar (D-MN5), MN Representative Fue Lee (DFL-59A), and St. Paul Public Housing Authority’s (PHA) Executive Director, Jon Gutzmann.

Federal Update

Rep. Omar discussed what is currently underway at the US Capitol and what we can expect from the federal government in the coming months.

Rep. Omar shared her excitement of working on transformative housing policies this year with a united government. Some of the housing priorities the Representative is working on include rent and mortgage cancelation and calling for an acquisition fund (anti-gentrification fund). Additionally, Rep. Omar touched on housing priorities laid out in the new stimulus package. As part of President Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, $30 billion will be allocated to rental and utility assistance –– $5 billion of which being earmarked to address homelessness.

Answering a few questions from the audience, Rep. Omar covered the inner workings of her proposed Rent and Mortgage Cancellation Act, discussed the stimulus package in more detail, and talked about a few anticipated infrastructure and energy bills (that include housing priorities).

State Update

For a state update, MHP heard from Chair of the House of Representative’s Capital Investment Committee, Rep. Lee.

As the legislative session is ramping up with bill hearings, Rep. Lee has been trying to find ways to address the housing crisis through the House Capital Investment Committee. Rep. Lee also mentioned that along with housing, his committee is prioritizing racial equity and climate impact. Rep. Lee emphasized the need for housing investments through bonding and made clear that the Governor’s housing infrastructure bonds proposal of $100 million is just “not enough”. Nevertheless, he is “optimistic and hopeful” that the legislature can work together to find a way to address the housing crisis in MN. Finally, Rep. Lee emphasized the importance of engaging legislators and made a call to action urging advocates to do just that in order for crucial housing policies to build momentum.

Community Perspective

Finally, MHP was joined by St. Paul PHA’s Executive Director, Jon Gutzmann, to discuss what is currently happening with public housing in St. Paul.

St. Paul Public Housing has 4,300 units of public housing and 4,900 Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers; Jon explained that these affordable housing opportunities house 21,000 low-income folks in St. Paul. Jon also highlighted St. Paul’s PHA’s 30-year record of collecting 99% of the rents; this has changed with COVID-19 with there being about a 3.5% delinquency rate (as opposed to the normal ~0.5% delinquency rate). Finally, Jon said that he is looking forward to the aforementioned infrastructure bill that is expected to be the source for public housing capital.