Facing High Demand, MN Digs Deep to Provide Housing Aid


Mike Moen, Public News Service

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

The U.S. is in the midst of a housing crisis, with a shortage of affordable homes and concerns about people facing homelessness. Minnesota is using extra aid recently approved by lawmakers, and community groups hope it helps meet the demand.

This spring, the state adopted a $1 billion housing omnibus bill, which has several provisions aimed at creating more housing stability for those who struggle with access.

Emma Schmit, housing director for Lakes and Prairies Community Action Partnership in northwestern Minnesota, said the funding boost is timely, as her team can only help about one in five people requesting assistance.

"Obviously, that's a large number of folks that we're not able to help simply because we just don't have the funding," Schmit pointed out. "That really just shows the need we have in our community for this type of funding."

One way they will put extra funding to use is through the Family Homeless Prevention Assistance program. It got an extra $50 million earlier this year, and another $45 million in the new housing bill. A quarter-cent sales tax increase for the Twin Cities area will fund some of the housing package. Republicans blasted the move because of the state's budget surplus.

Wendy Todd, director of outreach and emergency services for the Southeastern Minnesota Citizens Action Council, said their grant is six times more than what they typically get for housing aid. And with requests for help at higher levels, they are in a better position to provide robust assistance.

"We're going to be able to serve a lot more households," Todd stated. "And you know, the goal is always that they're going to be able to maintain that housing, so we also provide them with referrals to other resources. We don't just say, 'Oh, here, here's a check.' We try to provide some case management."

Meanwhile, there is extra state funding for down-payment assistance for homeownership.

Annie Shapiro, advocacy director for the Minnesota Community Action Partnership, said action agencies help with various aspects of guiding lower-income families toward their goals.

"It is really critical that people with low incomes have access to asset-building opportunities, and obviously, homeownership is a big one," Shapiro noted. "Especially thinking about intergenerational wealth that's been particularly withheld from people of color in Minnesota and Black Minnesotans."

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Disclosure: The Minnesota Community Action Association Resource Fund contributes to our fund for reporting on Early Childhood Education, Health Issues, Housing/Homelessness, and Poverty Issues.