Minneapolis plans to launch a second emergency rental assistance program in April, aiming to help residents catch up on their payments before a temporary eviction ban expires.

Federal pandemic aid should allow Minneapolis to provide more assistance than it did last year, when the city didn't have enough funding to help everyone who needed money during the coronavirus pandemic.

"We do anticipate that we will be able to meet a lot of the need that is out there," Katie Topinka, the city's housing policy coordinator, told City Council members during a public meeting Tuesday afternoon.

The city wants to pay for it by drawing on an estimated $22 million to $24 million from federal COVID relief packages passed in December and March.

To qualify, people will need to prove that they are renting in Minneapolis, have experienced a financial hardship because of the pandemic, and make 80% or less of the area median income. In Minneapolis, the cutoff is roughly $80,000 for a family of four.

It's too early to know for sure how many Minneapolis residents might qualify for the program. The city estimates that nearly 58,000 renter households meet the income requirements.

The money can be used to cover past or upcoming rent and utility bills. Topinka did not specify the amount of the payments but said a similar program launched at the county level gave an average payment of roughly $4,000.

Topinka estimated the first round of city funding could help about 2,500 households, and officials are waiting to hear more from the federal government to pinpoint the precise amount of money they will receive in the latest round.

Last year, the city spent about $2.6 million to give payments to more than 1,600 households. It received nearly 6,500 qualifying applications.

"We've learned a lot from that program that's helping inform how we're designing this new emergency rental assistance program," Topinka said.

To more effectively serve residents, Topinka said they plan to partner with the state and Hennepin County to launch a single application and process them together, rather than requiring people to fill out multiple applications with different agencies.

They will provide payments both to renters and to landlords, if the landlords receive permission from their tenants.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has temporarily banned many evictions until June 30, saying it is crucial to help people self isolate and reduce the spread of the virus.

Council Member Lisa Goodman said she's heard multiple times from landlords who were having trouble persuading their tenants to apply for assistance amid the temporary eviction ban.

"I think in the end it's going to be terrible for a tenant who doesn't cooperate now," Goodman said. "They'll be evicted when the moratorium wears off and then they'll have a negative on their record that they didn't need to have. So I think we almost have to explain why it's important."

Topinka said they will work with other city staff and partner organizations to raise awareness among tenants. Applications are slated to open in mid-April at renthelpmn.org.

Liz Navratil • 612-673-4994