FILE - Minnesota State Capitol

The Minnesota State Capitol in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

(The Center Square) – Minnesota House Democrats and Senate Republicans are backing different bills to help fund housing assistance for residents’ who can’t pay rent because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Minnesota Housing and Finance Policy Committee on Wednesday approved House File 4541 by a 9-5 vote, which aims to use $100 million in fiscal year 2020 from the general fund to help eligible renters pay rent, utilities, mortgages, and property tax bills for those whom COVID-19 impacted their income.

On March 24, Gov. Tim Walz placed a moratorium on evictions until the end of the peacetime emergency, which currently extends through May 13.

Over 500,000 Minnesotans have filed for unemployment since mid-March.

Minnesota Housing Finance Agency Commissioner Jennifer Ho called the bill a “win-win” for helping landlords and tenants pay bills. 

"Financial uncertainty brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic is going to make it increasingly difficult for some Minnesotans to 'stay home' as they struggle to afford the roof over their head," Rep. Mike Howard, DFL-Richfield, said in a news release.

"The need for rental and housing assistance has brought together a broad coalition across the housing spectrum, and it's important Senate Republicans join us at the table to deliver this urgently-needed relief."

House Legislative Analyst Mary Mullen said the bill would:

  • Prohibit residential landlords from charging late fees 90 days after the first declaration of a COVID-19 related peacetime emergency through January 15, 2021.
  • Prevent those landlords from terminating or refusing to renew a rental agreement through January 15, 2021.
  • Require landlords to provide a 30-day written notice to tenants before filing for evicting them after the pandemic
  • Stop some foreclosures during a public health emergency related to COVID-19

Eligible households must have a current gross income equal to or less than 300 percent of the federal poverty guidelines.

If passed, the appropriated money would go directly to the landlord or entity receiving the payment.

Any remaining appropriated money would bounce back to the general fund if it isn’t spent by February 1, 2021.

Senate Republicans introduced their version of the bill, SF 4495 Monday, which seeks to allocate $30 million for emergency housing assistance.

Republican Sens. Torrey Westrom of Elbow Lake and Bill Weber of Luverne authored the bill, which seeks to extend the ban on evictions until June 24 at the latest and force the legislature to vote on further extensions instead of Walz acting through executive order.

“Unfortunately, Governor Walz opposes this bipartisan agreement, citing his reduction in supposed executive power regarding the eviction moratorium,” Westrom said in a Monday press release.

“Simply put, Governor Walz cares more about personal power than providing emergency housing relief to Minnesotans.”

Walz has the power to declare a peacetime emergency, but Senate Republicans question if his emergency powers in statute 12.31 and 12.32 grant the authority to overrule existing law.

Housing Policy Committee Chair Weber encouraged Walz to sign their bill and return to the legislature if more funding or an extended ban on evictions is necessary.

HF 4541 bill was referred to the Ways and Means Committee. If it passes the House, the measure most likely won’t pass the Senate.

Staff Reporter

Scott McClallen is a staff writer covering Michigan and Minnesota for The Center Square. A graduate of Hillsdale College, his work has appeared on Forbes.com and FEE.org. Previously, he worked as a financial analyst at Pepsi.