In elementary school we took a field trip to the State Capitol and I still remember it. All that marble, and those golden horses perched in front of the Capitol's dome, it was quite intimidating to me as a child. Obviously that’s how the seat of power is designed to be.
Recently, on a crisp spring morning, I returned to the Capitol and had a much different experience altogether. I was there as a Habitat Housing Hero, advocating in support of the Homes for All agenda that is being considered by lawmakers now. Homes for All initially asked lawmakers to increase funding for housing and supportive housing services by $39 million. So wearing my green Housing Hero T-shirt, I met with my legislators: Representative Joe Atkins and Senator James Metzen. Representative Atkins was rushing from his office across the street to the Capitol because the House was going into session. He invited me to walk along with him and I explained why it was so important to protect (and grow) funding for affordable housing in Minnesota. He listened, asked thoughtful questions, and shook my hand. Then I headed over to Senator Metzen's office. He welcomed me in, remembered my father-in-law by name, and then chatted with me for 30 minutes about solving the housing challenges Minnesotans face. I left feeling empowered - that my voice had been heard and that my thoughts had value. If you're passionate about something (and hopefully good housing is one of those things) I highly recommend meeting with, or at least calling, your legislators.
And right now would be a good time to do it, because the idea of Homes for All needs more supporters at the Capitol.
The initial Homes for All ask (an increase of $39 million) would affect two budget lines: an increase of $19.5 million to the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency for housing programs and an increase of $19.5 million to the Department of Human Services for housing services. Both sides of the legislature, the Senate and the House, have passed initial budget plans and the Homes for All goal is in trouble.
Funding for Housing – Minnesota Housing Finance Agency
The House's current proposal offers no increase in funding to the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency and instead cuts almost $10 million in support for housing programs. The House's proposal also carves out an additional $10 million that had previously been used for affordable housing and earmarks it to support exclusively market-rate housing. These cuts would hit Minnesota Habitat affiliates particularly hard because they rely on these funds to leverage additional funding from their local faith, corporate, and individual partners. The Senate's proposal, on the other hand, includes a $16 million increase in funding for the Homes for All housing programs.
Funding for Housing Services – Department of Human Services
In budgeting for the Department of Human Services, the House proposes a $7 million increase while the Senate proposes a $9 million increase to funding for Homes for All programs. While this is far short of the $19.5 million proposed by Homes for All, it is exciting to see that both the House and the Senate agree more needs to be done. Both bodies included a $2 million increase to the Homeless Youth Act – which provides housing and services for youth who are homeless or at risk.
Both the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency and Department of Human Services budgets are part of larger omnibus bills. Conference committees will now try to work out differences in the budget plans. The final budgets will be voted on, and once passed, sent to the Governor to either be signed or vetoed. It's important that lawmakers continue to hear that we want to see our state prioritize investing in opportunity and building up lives through housing. It's a basic need and one that can have a huge impact on so many other important aspects of life.
Please contact your legislators today and remind them to prioritize Homes for All!