Beacon Interfaith Housing Collaborative commends the Star Tribune for highlighting escalating rents for low-income renters. The editorial "Back for another debate: rent control" (Jan. 23) asks: "What other solutions to affordable housing are untried?" We would reframe the question: "What solutions to affordable housing have been tried and are shown to work?"
The answer is simple: rent subsidies. Monthly rent subsidies make up the difference between what a low-income renter can afford to pay and the reasonable rent for a landlord to provide a well-maintained, well-managed apartment.
Studies show that people with rent subsidies feel more secure in their homes and are better positioned to give back to the community. Subsidies lead to improvements in health, employment and education. This approach is a win-win for tenants and landlords that corrects a market deficiency with straightforward, targeted assistance that adjusts based on a tenant's income.
If the tenant becomes unemployed, as we've seen during COVID, the amount of subsidy goes up. If the tenant finds a new job, the tenant's contribution goes up and the subsidy goes down.
The challenge is that only 1 in 4 qualified low-income renters gets a rent subsidy. We're not planning to vaccinate only 25% of the population. It's time we scale the solution to the size of the problem.
Some 550,000 Minnesotans, including many children, are at risk of losing their homes because of the woefully inadequate investment at the state level. Currently, less than one-half of 1% of Minnesota's budget goes to housing. We are calling on Gov. Tim Walz and legislators to increase investments in housing to 3% of the state budget so we can all have the security of home.
"Bring It Home, MN" rent subsidy legislation has been introduced in the Legislature (HF40 and SF333) by Rep. Michael Howard, DFL-Richfield, and Sen. Kari Dziedzic, DFL-Minneapolis, which would invest in housing stability for all. The House bill has more than 25 co-authors from across the state. They know rent subsidies are a simple, effective way to take a leap toward a fair, prosperous Minnesota that works for all of us.
Whatever your feelings about rent control, which would stop or slow the increase of current rents, there remains the problem of how we support the 550,000 struggling to pay that rent today. Rent subsidy is the proven policy for this, which is why Minneapolis and St. Paul are giving rent subsidies to a small number of housing insecure families in schools. This is great, but shows that no one city has the resources to tackle this problem alone. We need to do it together. This is a statewide problem.
In 71 out of Minnesota's 87 counties, 1 in 7 renters is paying more than half of their income toward housing every single month.
Our society has the resources for all people to have a home. We can stop homelessness before it begins. And we can do it in a way that is a win for renters and landlords, a win for our schools and cities, a win for employers and our competitive advantage. Whenever our neighbors, our communities, are hurting, we jump into action. It's just what we do as Minnesotans. With 550,000 of our neighbors at risk, it's time to jump.
Lee Blons is president and CEO of Beacon Interfaith Housing Collaborative.