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Advocacy Priority Deep Dive: Supporting the Challenge Program

Greta Gaetz
Posted by Greta Gaetz on 2:57 PM on April 27, 2021

Each year, Habitat supporters from across Minnesota come together to ask our state lawmakers to prioritize affordable homeownership at Habitat on the Hill. Since the onset of COVID-19, we've taken our advocacy online, to speak up for home, from home. Virtual Hill Day is coming up this Friday, April 30, and we are excited to raise our voices to advocate! This year, Housing Heroes are asking our state lawmakers to support an essential resource to Habitat’s work: the Challenge Program.

The Challenge Program is the shortened name of the “Economic Development and Housing Challenge Fund.” The program was established by the Minnesota Legislature in 1999 to provide loans and grants that advance housing development by nonprofit and for-profit builders, local governments, and tribal housing entities. The Challenge Program can be used to create both single-family homes and multifamily rental units. Because of its flexibility, this program has become the state’s major resource to advance affordable housing for families with a wide range of incomes.

The Challenge Program is also the primary state funding source for Twin Cities Habitat homes, and its versatility has helped Habitat develop affordable homeownership opportunities in several ways:

  • Building new homes.
  • Acquiring existing homes for rehabilitation.
  • Partnering with community land trusts, including funding 16 homes in the past two years that will remain permanently affordable.

In addition, the Challenge Program helped Habitat create a new option for homebuyers. In addition to Habitat-built homes, homebuyers can now buy a home for sale anywhere in the seven-county metro area using Habitat’s affordable mortgage* and down payment assistance. The result: more than 100 families achieve affordable homeownership with Habitat per year, double the number in past years.

Angel's Family.
Angel bought her home on the open market with Habitat's mortgage.* Her home has been a refuge for her family throughout COVID-19, and now her family is thriving. Read Angel's story.

Habitat uses the Challenge Program to leverage philanthropic dollars, corporate sponsorships, local funds, federal resources, and donations from thousands of Twin Cities Habitat supporters like you. In 2020 alone, funding from the Challenge Program helped finance 63 units of Habitat homeownership across the Twin Cities, each in turn providing the means for a family to build financial stability for generations.

The Challenge Program is an effective, proven program that works well in the Twin Cities and Greater Minnesota. However, the Challenge Program is significantly oversubscribed. Proposals for “shovel-ready” single-family and multifamily projects throughout the state far exceed awards that would allow those projects to move forward. Each year, many affordable housing projects are left unfunded due to the lack of available financing – all while 1 in 4 Minnesota households are cost-burdened by their housing, and our state’s housing supply remains severely short of the housing need.

Because the Challenge Program is essential to meeting the workforce housing needs of local communities, a more robust legislative appropriation for the program is crucial. We are asking our state lawmakers to support increased funding for the Challenge Program this legislative session. Current House and Senate bills differ sharply in their investment in the program for the next budget cycle:

  • The House Omnibus Housing Bill, HF1077, calls for a $6M increase
  • The Senate Omnibus Housing Bill, SF969, calls for a $2M decrease

This Virtual Hill Day, we want to make sure that our state’s investment in affordable homeownership moves forward, not backward. Your voice is needed to advocate for the Challenge Program. Sign up now to join us at Virtual Hill Day!

Register Now for Virtual Hill Day

*Habitat mortgages are provided through TCHFH Lending, Inc., a wholly-owned nonprofit mortgage lender of Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity.

Tags: Advocacy, 2021

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