Gov. Tim Walz is praising a new online initiative aimed at helping Minnesota renters who have fallen behind on making payments due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Walz joined state and local officials in a news conference Friday to highlight the rental assistance program, which was launched a week and a half ago. So far, applications are coming in, but no payments have gone out, and a trade group representing rental property owners criticized the rollout of the online system.
Still, the governor encouraged Minnesotans who need rental assistance to apply.
“We can’t leave folks behind, and we cannot have a cascade of evictions that both decimate families, community, but economically would be catastrophic,” Walz said.
The new emergency rental assistance program, called RentHelpMN, will make use of $375 million in COVID-19 relief money that Minnesota received from the federal government.
It’s designed to help low- and moderate-income renters with overdue rent and utilities dating back to March 13, 2020, and could provide up to 15 months of assistance to those who are eligible.
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“The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on Minnesotans in ways that reach far beyond the virus itself. Many people have fallen behind on their rent and other housing payments, and that means property owners and managers are struggling as well,” said Walz. “I encourage all Minnesotans who need rental assistance to apply.”
Minnesota Housing Commissioner Jennifer Ho urged people who need help to take their time and complete the application.
“The speed of processing an application is completely predicated on our having a completed application,” Ho said. “The best thing a renter can do is talk to their property manager. Go over the checklist of everything that is required in the application.”
Ho said the funding should last well into 2022. An eviction moratorium enacted last year remains in effect, although state lawmakers are negotiating a way to end it.
Some landlords say the state took too long to start the program and that it has flaws.
“The delay in Minnesota’s activation of a rental assistance program is unacceptable,” said Cecil Smith, the president of the MN Multi Housing Association, a statewide trade organization that represents owners of rental property. “Minnesota Housing has said any day or within weeks, but renters and Minnesota’s property owners deserve much better and need it sooner.”
There was no collaboration with the people the program was intended to serve, according to a statement from the group, which said “renters and property owners are having a painful experience that only compounds the effects of the pandemic further.”
The governor’s office said renters can apply directly or learn more about the application process by visiting renthelpmn.org or calling Greater Twin Cities United Way’s 211 Resource Helpline (Toll-free: 1.800.543.7709; Local: 651.291.0211). The 211 helpline has dedicated multilingual staff available to answer questions about RentHelpMN COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday.