Housing advocates say the real test of the economic downturn — and state and federal safety nets — in the Twin Cities will come in a few weeks on May 1 when the next round of rents and mortgage payments come due. The situation will be especially challenging for renters in the Twin Cities metro, where 30 to 40% of renters are considered cost-burdened, according to a 2019 Star Tribune analysis. With rents on the rise, that figure has likely increased. And now, with more than 320,000 people filing unemployment claims in Minnesota, the situation could become much worse. Here are some of the questions renters and homeowners are now asking.
Q: I’m a renter and have heard about an eviction moratorium, should I stop paying?
A: No. Public and private organizations and agencies are all saying the same thing: Though evictions have temporarily been suspended, rental property owners have bills to pay, as well, so rent must still be paid and it’s up to tenants to notify their property manager if they’re unable to make a timely or full payment.
Q: Should I call or write my property manager?
A: Write a letter, call and send an e-mail. If you need help, HOME Line MN, a Twin Cities nonprofit for renters, has a form letter on its website that provides a format for letting your property manager know that you can’t afford to pay the rent, or a portion of it. HOME Line (www.homelinemn.org) operates a call center, but best to check their website. The MN Law Center has links to Legal Aid, which also includes extensive support and resources.
Q: How does the eviction moratorium work?
A: The $2 trillion rescue package that was approved by Congress suspends rental evictions for 120 days only on properties that were financed with a government-backed mortgage, which represents only about half of all multifamily properties nationwide. Some states, including Minnesota, and cities have also passed general bans on rental evictions; you can check with the National Law Housing Project for an updated fact sheet on the federal moratorium as well as state and local bans.
Q: Isn’t the state stepping in to help renters?
A: Gov. Tim Walz has also called for a moratorium to suspend evictions, but there is also an effort underway to provide financial relief to renters. This week a consortium of housing nonprofits and legislators discussed details of a plan that has bipartisan support to promote a $100 million housing aid package when the Legislature returns on April 14. The goal, according to Rep. Michael Howard, DFL-Richfield, is to provide relief for renters and rental owners via state funds that would be distributed by housing groups that already provide rental assistance in the state.
Q: What are rental property owners doing to help?
A: Many property managers in the Twin Cities say they’re freezing rent increases and are offering renters whose leases expire to stay in their apartments on a month-to-month basis without rent increases. Some are waiving late fees and are offering flexible payment plans for missed rent. The coming months will be a really good time for anyone looking to rent an apartment in the Twin Cities, rent concessions are already becoming more common, especially in downtown Minneapolis.
Q: Are there other forms of rental assistance?
A: Some cities are offering special emergency assistance specifically to renters. Minneapolis on Friday announced a $5 million emergency rental and housing assistance program that offers payments up to $1,500, with some households receiving $2,000 “under extraordinary circumstances.” That program is aimed at families that live in the city and earn 30% or less of the area median income, and families with students in Minneapolis Public Schools. The situation is evolving day by day, so be sure to check in with your community on a regular basis.
Q: How does the foreclosure moratorium work?
A: Federal officials have imposed a halt to foreclosures for mortgages backed by the Federal Housing Administration and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. HUD has also ordered a 60-day foreclosure moratorium for homeowners affected by coronavirus.
Q: How do I know if my loan is backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac?
A: Check with Fannie Mae (fanniemae.com) and Freddie Mac (freddiemac.com) where you’ll find special links for homeowners. The Mortgage Bankers Association has warned that the industry, which is operating under the same constraints as the rest of the workforce, is already overwhelmed, so check in sooner than later.
Q: What if I’m a homeowner already facing foreclosure or eviction?
A: HUD and the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which regulate Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, have directed mortgage servicers to halt all new foreclosure actions and suspend those already in progress.
Q: I’m worried about making my next house payment, what should I do?
A: If you have a federally backed mortgage and are experiencing a financial hardship because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government has said that as part of its rescue plan, borrowers are supposed to receive some type of mortgage forbearance, either three or six months. Implementation isn’t going to be without speed bumps. So after making sure you’re getting the maximum unemployment benefit, contact your mortgage servicer — it’s the company that receives your mortgage payment — to learn more about your options. Some lenders are already now making it easier for homeowners to hit the pause button on their payments via special COVID-19 updates. For example, Wells Fargo Home Mortgage now has a video that explains the payment request process, and after logging into your account it lets you apply for an automatic three-month payment extension.