Aiming to prevent a further spike in homelessness resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Tim Walz announced Tuesday that the state will offer up to $100 million in housing assistance to help homeowners and renters.
Funding for the program will come from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security, or CARES, Act.
Walz said he’s concerned about people not being able to afford their rent or other housing payments due on Sept. 1, after a $600-per-week federal boost to unemployment insurance expires.
“One of those things that is about safety, it’s about health, it’s about well-being is stable housing,” Walz said. “It was under threat prior to COVID-19. It certainly is now.”
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Walz said the $100 million is the state’s single biggest designation of federal COVID-19 relief funds, along with $26 million previously designated for emergency homeless aid.
The housing assistance can be used to cover rent or mortgage payments or utilities incurred between March 1 and Dec. 30. The state will select local grant administrators, which will distribute the aid.
To qualify, a family or household must:
be a Minnesota resident and a renter or homeowner with income at or below 300 percent of federal poverty guidelines;
have a rent, mortgage, insurance or utility payment incurred after March 1 that is past due;
be unable to make the payment due to unemployment, illness or another COVID-19 related issue.
Minnesota Housing Commissioner Jennifer Ho said the goal is to move quickly to disperse the funds. She said Minnesotans should be able to begin applying for the assistance by mid August. More information is available on Minnesota Housing’s website.
Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan said the impacts of COVID-19 have struck especially hard those families that were already struggling to make ends meet before the pandemic.
Flanagan said Minnesota already had a fragile housing market before the pandemic, with more than 140,000 households making less than $50,000 a year paying more than half of their income toward housing.
“That just isn’t sustainable,” she said.
Jenny Larson, executive director of the nonprofit Three Rivers Community Action, said her organization gets calls every day from people all over the state who’ve lost their jobs or had their income reduced and are struggling to make their housing payments.
“They’re scared of one thing: They’re scared of losing their housing,” Larson said. “They’re worried what’s going to happen to them when they can’t make those payments.”
Larson said they have limited funds, and are only able to assist about 15 percent of the people who call seeking help.
Homelessness has been in the spotlight lately with the growth of tent camps in Minneapolis parks. Officials have said COVID-19 has led to an increase in the number of people in the camps, which they say are a serious health and safety risk.