Guest blog by Pam Johnson
Policy and Advocacy Manager
You spoke up, and our federal elected officials listened. Thanks to the strong advocacy work of so many Housing Heroes in Minnesota and throughout the nation, our federal funding for Habitat programs received a boost in funding this past fiscal year. These funds are critical to our ability to create more homeownership opportunities for Minnesotans each year, with each public dollar leveraging ten private sector dollars. Thank you.
Over this past summer and fall, Habitat’s Advocacy Team reached out to our federal elected officials representing the seven-county metro area. We invited federal staff, Senators, and Representatives to visit a Habitat build site in their district, meet at our St. Paul office, or have a phone call to discuss our policy priorities for Fiscal Year 2019 funding that began on October 1.
In the best scenario, a new federal budget would have been in place following the end of this past fiscal year on September 30, but as in recent years the new fiscal year began without an agreed upon FY19 budget. While Congress was unable to reach an agreement on all twelve appropriation bills that comprise our federal budget, they did so on five of those bills.
One bill that passed was the Labor-Health & Human Services legislation that includes funding for the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS)—the agency that oversees AmeriCorps. We were thrilled to learn that $1.08 billion was included for CNCS with a $13 million increase for AmeriCorps! This is news to celebrate at Twin Cities Habitat, as we recently welcomed our largest team of 34 AmeriCorps staff in history and are excited about the good work they are already doing at our Habitat build sites and in our office.
So, what happens to the remaining seven appropriation bills not passed by Congress by October 1? They are currently all rolled up into a vehicle called a Continuing Resolution (CR), which will maintain federal spending at current levels until December 7. Included in this CR are all Housing and Urban Development (HUD) programs that Habitat receives each year: HOME, CDBG, SHOP, and Section 4.
Our advocacy efforts with federal officials over the summer and fall were focused on educating legislators about the dramatic impact that Habitat homeownership has on the lives of families and communities within their district. We asked them to mostly maintain current funding, with a few slight increases. Below are a few photos from one of these site visits with Sixth District Congressman Tom Emmer at our Habitat Build site in Hugo.
During this visit, Congressman Emmer heard from Hugo Habitat homeowner Ronald, who talked about how he and his family felt welcomed and settled in their new community—and how their Habitat home was a significant stabilizing factor in their family’s life.
Congressman Emmer also heard from Site Supervisor McKinsie Clyde, AmeriCorps staff Mickey Foley, Advocacy Team Manager Pam Johnson, and Home Building Vice President Chad Bouley (a Sixth District constituent). Team Habitat did an excellent job demonstrating the strong return-on-investment of federal dollars directed to a well-designed affordable housing development model like Habitat for Humanity. Congressman Emmer has participated in previous Habitat home builds and is committed to future on-site opportunities with our team. He also expressed strong support for the following FY19 federal budget proposals that we outlined for him:
- Self-Help Homeownership Opportunity Program (SHOP): used to acquire land, purchase foreclosed or abandoned properties and improve the infrastructure of homes for first-time homeowners.
Our Ask: fund at $15 million. (Currently funded at $10 million)
- HOME Investment Partnership Program (HOME): used to repair, rehabilitate, or build owner-occupied housing, and supports land acquisition, infrastructure improvements, demolition, and down payment assistance.
Our Ask: fund at $1.5 billion (currently funded at $1.36 billion)
- Section 4 Capacity Building Program: used to provide training, technical assistance, and organizational development grants to Habitat affiliates to assist in building staff capacity.
Our Ask: Fund Section 4 at $40 million (currently funded at $35 million)
- Community Development Block Grant (CDBG): used for land acquisition and development, construction costs, and down-payment assistance.
Our Ask: fund at $3.3 billion (level funding)
- USDA 502 direct and 504 loan programs: Section 502 direct loans are used to build, renovate, or relocate a home in a rural area (used by Minnesota Habitat affiliates), and can finance the purchase and preparation of sites, including providing water/wastewater facilities. Section 504 loans help very low-income individuals to repair, improve or modernize their homes.
Our Ask: Fund USDA 502 at $1.2 billion, USDA 504 Loan at $28 million (current funding: USDA 502: $1.1 billion, UDSA 504: $28 million- level funding).
Based on the outcome of House and Senate committee bill negotiations this fall, we are hopeful that when the entire fiscal year 2019 budget is finalized, our priority programs will be level-funded at the very least, with the potential for slight increases.
Make Housing an Election issue!
You are likely aware that this is a very important election year. In Minnesota, both US Senators, all eight Congressional members, all state-wide offices (including the Governor), all 134 state House members, and one state Senate seat up for election on November 6. All candidates need to hear that affordable housing is important to you, their constituents.
One simple way to do that is to use a postcard we created to assist you in your preparation to vote and to help you educate candidates about the need for affordable housing in your community. It provides facts about housing needs in our state and poses questions to candidates about how they will act to support increased resources for the creation and maintenance of affordable homes statewide. We encourage you to print this card and keep it handy in the coming weeks. You can download and print this piece and use it with candidates who knock at your door.
Remember to vote before or on election day—visit this link for information about voting, the candidates, and even a sample ballot from your voting area.
Thank you for your advocacy—it makes a difference!