Push for affordable housing comes to the Capitol

The debate over affordable housing across Minnesota made its way to the Minnesota Capitol Wednesday, as groups lined up to push for hundreds of millions of dollars in investments they say is long overdue.

At a press conference, members of the Homes For All Coalition asked for $430 million to address housing shortages around the state, particularly in greater Minnesota. A large part of the  ask — roughly $300 million — would be paid for by state borrowing. The state has a projected $1.5 billion surplus as the governor and Legislature begin setting the next two-year budget.

“Where we live impacts everything because there is just not enough funding in the actual greater Minnesota and rural areas,” said Jordan May, executive director of the Red Lake Homeless Shelter on the northern Minnesota reservation.

He said he was homeless himself for four years.”It helped me really realize how many people are homeless and how there’s an actual need for housing resources in our rural area of greater Minnesota,” May added.

The Homes For All coalition is a group of businesses, local housing authorities and social service organizations. They brought their pitch to the Housing Finance and Policy Committee in the House on Wednesday, an all-new committee in the DFL-controlled chamber. The committee’s chair, Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, said attention to housing issues is long overdue at the Capitol.

“We all understand housing has a definite connection to a healthy, competitive economy,” she said.

A large share of the spending would be part of a package of borrowing projects known as the bonding bill, which would typically be crafted next year. But there are also requests for money or tax credits to provide emergency shelters, to assist families in purchasing homes and to encourage affordable housing construction.

Coalition members note a lack of affordable housing is a barrier to business expansion in places workers can’t find homes. A state task force recently estimated that 300,000 new homes are needed to keep pace with demand across Minnesota.

“Housing should be considered part of our economic infrastructure,” Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce President Jonathan Weinhagen said. “I hear growing concern from CEOs and business leaders on a regular basis that the increasingly limited supply of housing is making it difficult to attract and retain talent.”

— MPR News reporter Brian Bakst contributed to this report 

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