On June 13, the Minnesota legislature adjourned after completing a one-day special session called by Governor Mark Dayton (D). The budget bill passed during this brief session provides a $25.5 million increase for housing programs, a victory for Homes for All, a coalition of more than 150 organizations dedicated to housing stability for all Minnesotans. Homes for All is led by Minnesota Housing Partnership (MHP) and the Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless (MCH), NLIHC State Coalition Partners. The special session also included victories for workforce housing, primarily advocated for by the Greater Minnesota Housing Developers Taskforce, recently convened by MHP.
The budget bill increased funding for Minnesota Housing Finance Agency (MHFA) and Department of Human Services (DHS) programs by $25.5 million above the previous biennial budget. The budget includes:
- A one-time $2 million allocation for the Housing Trust Fund, dedicated to its Rental Assistance for Highly Mobile Students initiative. This program provides temporary rental assistance to families with school-age children who have changed homes or schools at least once within the last year.
- A one-time $2 million allocation for the Governor’s Housing and Job Growth Initiative, which funds workforce housing where employers have difficulty recruiting and retaining employees due to the lack of housing. The Housing and Job Growth Initiative is targeted to communities outside of the Twin Cities metropolitan area, known as the Greater Minnesota region.
- A $2 million increase for the Long Term Homeless Supportive Services Fund, which helps counties fill budget gaps not covered by other service programs. Common uses include utility bill assistance, transportation, and crisis intervention.
- A $2 million increase for the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act program, which supports nonprofits that provide outreach, and preventive and supportive services to runaway youth, homeless youth, and youth at risk of homelessness.
- A $2.5 million increase for Bridges, a housing assistance program that provides a rental subsidy for very low income persons with serious mental illness.
- A $4.5 million increase for Housing with Supports for Adults with Serious Mental Illness (HSASMI), which helps adults living with mental illness obtain and maintain stable supportive housing in their communities. HSASMI provides funds for development and ongoing operating subsidies of projects with supportive services.
- A $500,000 increase for the Emergency Services Program, which provides emergency shelter and assistance accessing essential services for various populations that lack stable or permanent shelter.
In addition to the above $15.5 million for the MHFA and DHS programs, the budget appropriates $10 million for Housing Infrastructure Bonds (HIBs), which will cover bond debt service of up to $800,000 annually for the next 22 years. HIB can be used to acquire, rehabilitate, stabilize, or construct specific types of affordable housing. The leadership of the Senate and House Capital Investment Committees was instrumental in advocating for these bonds.
The results of this budget session demonstrate the advocacy impact of the Greater Minnesota Housing Developers Taskforce, which led to the one-time extension of funds for workforce housing under the Housing and Job Growth Initiative. In 2013, Governor Dayton allocated $10 million to launch the initiative, which is now extended with this year’s one-time allocation of $2 million. In addition, the Workforce Pilot Program for workforce rental housing development in northwestern Minnesota cities was carried over into the next biennium with eligible per-project grant amounts increasing from $400,000 to $1 million.
The 2016-17 biennial budget also appropriates $4 million to a new market-rate Workforce Housing Program in the Department of Employment and Economic Development. This grant program will develop market-rate rental properties in Greater Minnesota communities where the lack of housing has negatively affected an employer. Workforce Housing Program funds may not be used in combination with income-restricted program funds, a provision actively opposed by the taskforce.
These three recent programs for workforce housing will help address the needs of a growing workforce in rural Minnesotan communities where development of housing is difficult. They also indicate a shift in focus of the Minnesota legislature toward rural areas.
A notable amount of the new funding in the budget is targeted to services for homeless youth and students who have a high incidence of forced mobility. These are youth, either unaccompanied or with their families, who are evicted from or priced out of their homes or who run away from home. MHP’s most recent 2x4 Report, a semi-annual examination of statewide housing indicators, estimates 13,000 youth were homeless. Between July 2014 and March 2015, four urban and suburban school districts identified 8,085 homeless youth. Research conducted by Professor Ann Masten of the University of Minnesota shows that highly mobile students do not do as well in school, compared to students of similarly low incomes. Publication of Professor Masten’s research in the October 2012 edition of Child Development provided the impetus for advocates to seek broader support in the legislature for programs to address youth homelessness.
The budget increases solidify the Homes for All coalition as a significant change leader in the Minnesota legislative process. “This budget acknowledges that stable housing is important to the education of Minnesota’s youth, the growth of our economy, and the stability of our most vulnerable neighbors,” said Chip Halbach, MHP’s Executive Director. “There is still much work to be done, but we are happy that the recent budget bill affirms the state’s financial commitment to affordable housing.”
For more information, contact Chip Halbach, Executive Director of MHP, at email@example.com