Minnesota housing officials and advocates are anticipating a stronger federal role in housing when President-elect Joe Biden takes office next month.
Biden has proposed a $640 billion investment over 10 years in affordable housing, making universal housing vouchers available to all families who qualify, expanding tax credits for affordable housing and helping secure housing for domestic violence survivors, formerly incarcerated people and other marginalized groups.
Earlier this month, Biden nominated U.S. Rep. Marcia Fudge, a Democrat from Ohio, to be secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). But much of Biden's housing ambitions hinge on whether Democrats will take the majority in the Senate next month after the two runoff elections in Georgia.
Biden also faces the challenge of how to ward off a looming eviction crisis nationwide as tenants can't pay rent and landlords struggle with their own bills.
Housing advocates in Minnesota are hoping to see a clear departure from the Trump administration, which they have criticized over the years for failing to support full funding for capital needs for public housing and voucher programs, and rolling back rules that required states and local governments to eliminate housing discrimination. During the campaign, Trump frequently described low-income housing as a threat to suburbs.
Minnesota Housing Commissioner Jennifer Ho said she hopes the new administration will help with renewing federal assistance for unemployment benefits and housing assistance funding. While people statewide have worked hard to prevent people from becoming homeless or getting evicted, Ho said those efforts are "not sufficiently funded going forward."
"COVID-19 has just exposed what we've long known: If you don't have housing and the ability to afford it that you are really vulnerable to lots of other things," Ho said. "We've seen that a lot during COVID so we're looking forward to a more coherent strategy on managing the virus not just on the health care side but the economy side and other things at play."
Cecil Smith, president of the Minnesota Multi Housing Association, said it's challenging to think ahead to possible policy changes as federal pandemic assistance is running out. He said the "most immediate priority" needs to be income support or housing assistance so that people can stay housed.
"We kept people housed in Minnesota through a national crisis and I think local owners responded, and the partnerships that we're seeing at the state and local level with federal funding has been impressive," Smith said. "Now all of that is burned off and we're looking at January. What's going to happen in February?"
Smith noted that much housing policy in the past few decades has come from state and local government. However, he said under a Biden administration there will likely be an emphasis on affordable financing for mortgages and low-income housing.
Jennifer Keogh, deputy executive director for the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority (MPHA), said the agency is hopeful about Biden's proposals for universal vouchers and increasing public housing authorities' capital needs budget. She noted how the agency saw more than 14,000 people apply for the Section 8 voucher waiting list last year for just 2,000 spots and the agency's ongoing budget shortfall to take care of needed repairs for its buildings.
"We saw some pretty destructive comments made about fair housing and looking at some of his comments that I would equate to NIMBY and ... in [President Trump's] last little push about 'saving the suburbs,' " Keogh said. "We house families in all of Minneapolis but we have neighborhoods that our voucher holders can't access, and we want our families to be able to access every ZIP code in our city."
MPHA officials are also optimistic that HUD under Biden will not move forward with the Trump administration's proposals to limit access to housing assistance by immigrants without legal status and transgender people, among other fair housing rules.
Diane Larson, legislative chairwoman for the Minnesota chapter of the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials, said that Fudge's nomination to lead HUD is encouraging and believes Fudge will have an understanding of how other safety net programs like food stamps go hand in hand with supporting people's housing needs.
She also said she's hoping the Low-Income Housing Tax Credits program will be expanded to increase affordable housing statewide. While the federal government is a crucial part of housing policy, Larson said state and local governments also need to preserve available housing.
"Production of new affordable housing is important across Minnesota but ... what we have on the ground is equally as important," Larson said.
Marissa Evans • 612-673-4280