$50 million infusion will shore up emergency assistance for Minnesotans on cusp of homelessness

A view of highways and tents from the air.
Cedar Riverside encampment residents near 15th Avenue South and 6th Street South in Minneapolis, on Jan. 18, 2023.
Kerem Yücel | MPR News

This story comes to you from Sahan Journal through a partnership with MPR News.

Katelyn Vue |  Sahan Journal

Minnesota families on the brink of homelessness will receive more help from housing service providers as the result of a $50 million funding infusion for a Minnesota Housing program.

The measure, passed by the Legislature and signed by Governor Tim Walz late last month, will help shore up Minnesota Housing’s Family Homeless Prevention and Assistance Program at a time when it’s being pressed for more emergency rental assistance amid high eviction filing rates and as other sources of funding dry up in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Minnesota Housing is a state agency that helps low- and moderate-income Minnesotans buy and preserve homes. 

The one-time funding will be administered by the program’s providers, including 20 counties and tribal nations. It represents a short-term solution to a growing problem, say many housing advocates and service providers. 

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More funding is potentially on the way, said state Representative Michael Howard (DFL-Richfield), chair of the House’s Housing Finance and Policy Committee and chief author of the bill. Howard and state Senator Lindsey Port (DFL-Burnsville) are sponsoring bills to add even more state funding for the Family Homeless Prevention and Assistance Program. 

This bill, this program, really focuses on helping bridge that gap between wages and rent costs.

- Lindsey Port, Minnesota state senator

“This bill, this program, really focuses on helping bridge that gap between wages and rent costs, getting folks the services they need to be able to stay housed, and it is our most effective tool at preventing homelessness,” Port said. 

The program usually receives $10 million per year in state funding to utilize and distribute to housing program providers. With the new funding, a projected additional 20,000 households will be helped, according to James Lehnhoff, Minnesota Housing assistant commissioner. 

Providers typically receive funds on a quarterly basis for a two-year cycle, distributing them to support and expand community housing services, as well as in the form of direct emergency assistance to families. 

However, some providers have been running out of money within two weeks after receiving it, said Annie Shapiro, advocacy director for the Minnesota Community Action Partnership, a statewide coalition of community organizations that seeks to combat poverty.

The Family Homeless Prevention and Assistance Program “has needed more money for years, but we’re just at such a crisis right now in terms of evictions that it’s desperately needed as immediately as possible,” Shapiro said. “It is way better for the people who are housing-unstable, and also for our state as a whole, to keep people safely housed, than to have people be evicted, and then try to find safe housing for them after the eviction.” 

According to Hennepin County’s eviction dashboard which tracks evictions in all Minnesota counties, 8,318 evictions were filed in Hennepin and Ramsey county in 2022 compared to 1,228 evictions filed in 2021. 

‘There’s always been a high need’ 

The Minnesota End Rental Arrears and Stop Evictions (MN ERASE) campaign is a network of advocates and housing program leaders that works to help renters avoid eviction and homelessness. 

Jewelean Jackson, 72, a longtime renter involved in the ERASE campaign, has experienced housing instability for several years. Jackson said she stayed at homeless shelters and bounced from place to place from 2013 to 2019. Jackson also went through an eviction about five years ago and a house foreclosure in 2008.  

“Even when I’m shaking in my boots talking to legislators and folks with power and resources, not only am I willing to speak, but I’m also willing to allow people to share my pain,” Jackson said. 

Jackson has now lived in an apartment alone for the past three years. 

Randi Callahan is community services director for Three Rivers Community Action, which provides housing assistance services to Olmsted, Goodhue, Rice, and Wabasha counties. Callahan said the agency received Family Homeless Prevention and Assistance Program funds on April 1, but quickly used it all. 

“This isn’t new to the pandemic, we’ve always run out of background assistance faster than we can get it,” she said. “There’s always been a high need.”

Her agency uses funds from the program to provide services such as first-month rents, security deposits, utility expenses, and transportation assistance.

“We’re hopeful that with this additional amount, we can serve households continuously and not have to refer out, or to try to collaborate as much, to make households jump through hoops to get that amount covered,” Callahan said. “We’re really excited, and we’re ready to get this funding out the door.” 

Angela Larson is family services director at United Community Action Partnership, which provides housing assistance in nine southwestern Minnesota counties. Her agency usually runs out of funds from the Family Homeless Prevention and Assistance Program before the end of a quarter. 

Larson said it was much easier to support families during the period when COVID-19 emergency funds were allocated for housing needs. However, as that money has dried up, the need for emergency rental assistance hasn’t gone away, Larson said. 

“What ended up happening was a lot of people are coming in with a lot of great need and we definitely can’t help [all] the people who actually need it,” she said. “And so that is more difficult for staff when they really want to help more people but the funds just aren’t available.” 

The ERASE campaign pushed for the bill to be heard sooner than later in the Legislature to avoid having it wait for the end of the legislative session, said Elizabeth Glidden, deputy executive director of the Minnesota Housing Partnership, a nonprofit organization that advances housing policy and research and provides community development services. 

“We ran out of federal emergency rental assistance well over a year ago. Since that time, there’s been no devoted resource,” said Glidden. “We have been telling lawmakers that this is an emergency that needs to be addressed now. We were making the case essentially that if they wait till the end of the session, the harm caused will be exponential.” 

If you are looking for emergency rental assistance or housing assistance, you can find a Family Homelessness Prevention and Assistance Program service provider that serves your area on the FHPAP Provider Contact List.