Housing officials in Minnesota say hundreds of millions of more federal dollars will help people who have not been able to pay rent through the pandemic.
Minnesota received $375 million in housing assistance from the federal COVID-19 relief bill that Congress passed in December. An additional $229 million for emergency rental assistance comes to Minnesota from the American Rescue Plan passed last month. Eligible households may use the funds to pay up to 18 months of rent, utilities and other housing expenses incurred since March 13, 2020.
Minnesota Housing launched RentHelpMN.org on April 20 for people to apply for housing assistance grants. An estimated 53,000 Minnesota households were behind on their rent by an average of $2,900, according to the National Equity Atlas. Renters statewide owed a total of $156 million.
Minnesota U.S. Sen. Tina Smith, who chairs the Housing, Transportation and Community Development subcommittee, said that disparities in housing disproportionately affects communities of color.
“If you don’t have a safe, affordable place to live, nothing else in your life works,” Smith said. “COVID has exacerbated some of the deep inequities and lack of options and opportunities for so many people around housing.”
No federal rental assistance has been available since January. Last year, Minnesota used $100 million in federal aid to help pay rent. Housing officials expect between 50,000 to 100,000 renters and landlords to apply for assistance in the coming weeks.
Minnesota Housing Commissioner Jennifer Ho said her agency aims to keep people in their homes. She called the latest aid, “the largest direct assistance program my agency has ever administered.”
Ho said it will take time for a new processing system to get up and running before renters see their first payments. People already are applying.
“We anticipated that because there are so many folks who are behind on rent that there would be a lot of traffic early on,” Ho said.
To qualify, tenants must have incomes at or below 80 percent of their county’s median income and range from $41,750 for a single-person household in a low-income county to $105,500 for an eight-person household in a high-income county. People who have been unemployed for more than 90 days and making 50 percent or less annually will get priority.
Renters struggling to navigate the process may seek help from nonprofits throughout Minnesota. Angela Larson, family services director of United Community Action Partnership, which is focused on emergency housing in southwest Minnesota, said that the rental assistance is a lifeline.
“We’ve been feeling really great about the outreach and the services that the staff have been providing,” Larson said. “We’re just looking forward to keep working with this program.”
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