Minneapolis asks for $45 million to address public housing backlog

Three people sit at a table
Mayor Jacob Frey, State Sen. Omar Fateh and Minneapolis Public Housing Authority Executive Director Abdi Warsame.
Jon Collins | MPR News

Minneapolis officials are pushing for a bill in the state Senate that would provide $45 million in funding for the city to rehab, preserve and repair affordable housing. Minneapolis officials say the money is part of a larger effort they announced Friday to bolster public and affordable housing by collaborating with other local governments and private partners.  

The legislation authored by Sen. Omar Fateh, DFL-62, would provide a grant to the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority. Fateh said the legislation is an example of how the Legislature can stand behind its value of supporting affordable housing for all. 

“We know keeping people in their homes provides the security they need to thrive on their own, and these homes are a proven tool to provide families with a solid foundation for upward mobility,” Fateh said. 

The Minneapolis Public Housing Authority (MPHA) would use the one-time money to address $35 million in capital backlog on its properties. Another $10 million would be set aside for future capital work. 

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MPHA Executive Director Abdi Warsame said the $45 million in state funding would allow the agency to scale up efforts they’re already making to renovate units and “get us to sustainability much sooner” by allowing them to create reserves for the capital backlog. 

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said the total backlog for the city’s public housing is about $210 million. Funding for the backlog has been mostly stagnant for the last decade, even while the capital backlog has increased. The Minneapolis Public Housing Authority estimates that the backlog is expected to rise to $380 million in the next two decades without additional funding. 

The hearing in the Senate Housing and Homeless Prevention committee elicited little discussion on the committee. Chair Senator Lindsey Port said her plan is to lay the bill over for possible inclusion in the omnibus budget bill.  

At a press conference after the bill’s hearing, Frey announced that Minneapolis is bringing together all levels of government with private partners to address the lack of affordable housing in the region. 

Frey said public housing in Minnesota and across the country has been underfunded by the federal government for his entire lifetime and that investments in public housing make fiscal sense because they keep people from homelessness. 

“We are at a critical moment right now where we have a number of partners who are all rallying around a common cause,” Frey said, “We can increase the amount of public housing stock that we have in the city of Minneapolis and we can preserve the existing public housing stock, which is so critical for ensuring that people can move out of homelessness, and is providing a stability from which people can rise.” 

The Public Housing Preservation and Expansion Convening will be chaired by Frey, as well as representatives of Hennepin County, Minnesota Housing, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Minneapolis Foundation, among others. City officials hope to hold the first meeting within about a month. 

Warsame said the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority serves about 26,000 people through high-rise housing, scattered family housing and administration of housing choice vouchers. 

“We need the support of the city, we need the support of the county, we need the support of the state, we need the support and attention of the federal government,” Warsame said. “But, also, Minneapolis is a rich city, an affluent city, a city that has a lot of businesses and Fortune 500 companies, and we need the support of those folks as well.”   

The Minneapolis Public Housing Authority controls about 6,000 units across the city, including 42 high-rise buildings and 736 scattered homes. The agency recently completed a $27 million renovation of the Elliot Twins high rise in downtown. 

Mary McGovern, who is president of the Minneapolis Highrise Representative Council and lives at Elliot Twins, said she’d like to see other public housing tenants experience the same improvements she did at her building. 

“The state can and ensure [that] all families and all children truly get to experience decent, safe and well-maintained housing,” McGovern said. “You’d want nothing less for your own.” 

The mayor has made affordable housing a priority in his administration, and recently trumpeted the news that the number of affordable housing units built in the city last year was about three times the annual average. 

A state House companion bill for the $45 million in funding had its first reading Thursday, and was authored by Rep. Esther Agbaje, DFL-59B.