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The clock is running out for many Minnesotans facing rising housing instability

It is past time for Minnesota, and our nation, to prioritize homes as a cornerstone for a strong future.

South Minneapolis houses
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan

The clock is running out on many Minnesota families. In this moment there is a mounting urgency to ensure our fellow Minnesotans, hit hardest by the converging crises of COVID-19 and persistent, historic racial injustice, are spared from rising housing instability and homelessness.

Acooa Ellis
Acooa Ellis

An increasing number of families are experiencing job and income loss and face imminent risks of eviction and foreclosures — all at a time when a home is unquestionably tied to health and well-being. Homelessness is on a sharp incline, as evidenced by the last Wilder Homelessness Survey. This fact, coupled with the focus on social distancing and impending harsh winter weather, underscore the imperative to create more places to call home, as well as preserve the severely limited supply of housing affordable to Minnesotans of lesser means.

It is past time for Minnesota, and our nation, to prioritize homes as a cornerstone for a strong future.

For perspective, Minnesota’s housing challenges were steep ahead of the health crisis we now face, as evidenced by the Governor’s Task Force on Housing Report, “More Places to Call Home: Investing in Minnesota’s Future,” released in 2018. Our state’s housing system never fully recovered from the Great Recession over a decade ago. According to the report, Minnesota needs to preserve existing affordable housing and build 300,000 more homes over the next decade to meet current and projected needs.

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The result of this housing shortage is thousands of Minnesotans are locked out of opportunity and stability across our state. This challenge is especially pronounced in parts of Greater Minnesota, where low housing stock means delayed economic growth as hundreds of jobs go unfilled and in more urban centers where existing patterns of housing discrimination and evictions are exacerbated by tremendous demand for homes affordable to even moderate wages.

Duluth Mayor Emily Larson
Duluth Mayor Emily Larson

Our state’s eye-popping unemployment rates provide insight into what is to come. In May, seven in 10 Minnesota households reported having enough savings to last four months. One in three families could only last one month. Based on these numbers it is unsurprising that mortgage delinquency rates doubled in April.

Additionally, Forbes covered an analysis from global advisory firm Stout Risius Ross on July 28 which estimates that more than 40% of renter households in the U.S. are going to experience a rental shortfall during the COVID-19 crisis with just under 12 million facing eviction over the next four months alone. Minnesota’s estimates are among the highest at 50% or greater.

Recent events have placed systemic racism in Minnesota in full view for the country. We now find ourselves with the opportunity to address head on what represents the perfect storm for Minnesota’s Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) families/households who are disproportionately represented among those impacted by COVID-19, housing discrimination, and unemployment.

The problems we face are complex and entrenched, but they are also solvable. It is past time for Minnesota legislators to recognize a place to call home as the cornerstone for a strong future and prioritize the well-being of our friends and neighbors over partisan brinksmanship.

Skip Duschesneau
Skip Duschesneau

Housing is an asset that builds in resiliency ahead of unanticipated crises to help protect our families and workforce against future economic shocks. It is also critically important to center housing in our recovery plans as we build a more resilient, sustainable, and equitable future for all Minnesotans. Housing must be viewed as essential infrastructure, a cornerstone of our state’s economic competitiveness.

The Minnesota Legislature has yet to pass a bonding bill during its regular legislative session and four special sessions this summer. A robust bonding bill would provide essential funds for affordable housing developments across the state, at the same time creating much needed, good-paying jobs. And even during economic uncertainty it is a good time, in an era of historically low interest rates, to pass important housing investments for our future so we do not fall further behind.

The alarm is sounding. Join us in urging our state’s leaders to come together for all Minnesotans by acting now for our collective future prosperity. Prioritize housing. Pass a bonding bill that includes bonds for housing – because every Minnesotan deserves a place to call home.

Acooa Ellis is senior vice president, community impact, at Greater Twin Cities United Way and co-chair of the Governor’s Task Force on Housing.  Emily Larson is the mayor of  Duluth and a member of the Governor’s Task Force on Housing. Skip Duschesneau is president of D.W. Jones and a member of the Governor’s Task Force on Housing. 

Chad Adams, Harry Melander and Paul Williams also contributed to this commentary. Adams is CEO of the Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership and a member of the Governor’s Task Force on Housing. Melander is president of the Minnesota State Building and Construction Trades Council and an ex-officio member of the Governor’s Task Force on Housing. Paul Williams is president and CEO of Project for Pride in Living and a member of the Governor’s Task Force on Housing.

For more information on the Governor’s Task Force on Housing Report visit https://www.mnhousingtaskforce.com/.

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