The important link between housing security and public health has never been clearer than during the COVID-19 pandemic. Having a home in which to live, work and assist your children with their schoolwork has been at the center of our collective effort to minimize the spread of the virus and save lives.
And while Minnesota has done better than many other states to help people afford the roof over their head, the reality is that without a renewed push for housing assistance, thousands face an economic cliff at the end of the 2020 and will not be able to make their January rent or mortgage payment.
The cost of inaction would be dire. A recent report by the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health studied the impact when 27 states lifted eviction moratoriums during the pandemic. The result showed an excess of 433,700 COVID cases and 10,700 deaths directly caused by those who lost their ability to "stay home and stay safe."
Meanwhile, a recent report from the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia projects that 1.32 million renter households across the country currently owe $7.2 billion in back rent. Not only does this stress Minnesota's renters, it also causes financial hardships for our landlords — especially our small "mom and pops."
Thankfully, Minnesota has maintained its eviction moratorium and paired it with $100 million in direct housing assistance to support homeowners, renters and landlords. Since the COVID Housing Assistance Program was launched by Minnesota Housing in August, an average of $950,000 has been allocated per day across the state. That's not a misprint. Nearly $1 million is being allocated each day because so many Minnesotans are having trouble affording their housing.
More than 30,000 households and landlords have benefited from the program, which has been utilized in all 87 counties. The need has not gone away, but this funding has now been exhausted. As of this week, applications for the Minnesota COVID Housing Assistance program have closed. January rent will be due in a matter of weeks.
In a better world, Congress would have passed a federal COVID relief bill months ago. As it is, the Minnesota Legislature must step up and continue providing housing assistance in the near term because Minnesotans are counting on us. An investment of $50 million will help ensure homeowners, renters and landlords can cover their payments at the start of the new year. This will provide a necessary bridge during our current COVID surge where many are still unable to work. The vaccine offers hope for 2021, but Minnesotans can't afford for us to wait.
Gov. Tim Walz and leaders in both parties are negotiating a COVID relief bill for the December special session. Much of the discussion has focused on the need for small business relief and assistance for working families. Housing assistance is necessary to help us accomplish each of these goals. Ensuring folks can pay their rent pumps money into our economy and small businesses.
We simply cannot afford to leave Minnesotans out in the cold.
Michael Howard, DFL-Richfield, is a member of the Minnesota House.