(The Center Square) – Gov. Tim Walz announced a $100 million housing assistance program aimed to help prevent evictions and support housing stability for those impacted by COVID-19.
The $100 million is taken from funds provided through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has hit families across the state hard," Walz said in a statement. "I’ve said throughout this fight that my top priority is Minnesotans’ safety, health and well-being. And we know that stable housing is key to safety, health, and well-being.
“We hope this program will bring some relief to Minnesotans across the state who are struggling to afford their bills because of the pandemic.”
The money was originally planned to be distributed by the legislature but hasn’t budged since the CARES Act was signed into law more than three months ago.
“Legislative bodies in a democracy are meant to move slowly,” Walz said, adding that he’d like to have the legislature approve the money distribution.
State officials said that grants will be made to local administrators to provide outreach, process applications, validate household eligibility, and process payments for eligible expenses.
“This housing assistance will allow Minnesotans to stay safe and stay home while we endure the effects of a pandemic,” Housing Commissioner Jennifer Leimaile Ho said. “At the same time, we must keep the need to create and preserve more housing front and center. We need more housing.”
Eligible households include those at 300 percent of the federal poverty level or below and families that have been impacted by COVID-19.
The money is meant to soften the blow for those who will lose the weekly $600 federal unemployment payment that is set to expire in late July.
Local grant administrators will be selected in the coming weeks, Ho said, and Minnesota Housing expects residents can begin applying for assistance in early August.
The commissioner didn’t give an estimate of how many people this money could help.
Ho said this appropriation is usually about $10 million and the agency will distribute the money quickly.
“We just need to work with speed and we’ll learn as we go,” Ho said. "We’ll have the ability to move money around if we find that there’s a greater need in some part of the state than another... But the most important thing right now is that we have to get it out there.
State Rep. Michael Howard, DFL - Richfield, the Minnesota House Housing Finance and Policy Division vice-chair, applauded the announcement.
“I am grateful for the leadership of Governor Walz and Lieutenant Governor Flanagan for stepping up in support of Minnesotans who need assistance to afford their homes,” Howard said in a statement.
“Since the onset of COVID-19 we have worked to provide needed housing assistance to Minnesotans because you can’t stay home and stay safe if you can’t afford the roof over your head.”