2020 has been a challenging year in countless ways, and that departure from business as usual certainly extended to the Minnesota state legislature. From meeting with constituents via Zoom, hosting virtual committee hearings, and taking remote roll call votes for important decisions, the legislature adapted to ongoing increased needs due to COVID-19. Twin Cities Habitat even adjusted our annual advocacy day to fit the times, hosting our first ever virtual Habitat on the Hill event this spring.
During Habitat on the Hill, we came together to ask our state legislators to support two main requests: funding for emergency housing assistance dollars for low-income families impacted by COVID-19, and investments in infrastructure projects across the continuum of housing through a bonding bill so that new affordable housing could be developed despite the pandemic. Unfortunately, neither housing assistance nor bonding received funding from the legislature during the regular session, and both remained unanswered questions after legislators wrapped up the regular session on May 18.
Habitat advocates tuned in virtually for Habitat on the Hill 2020. They were joined by elected leaders like MN Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan, pictured above.
When housing assistance was not funded by the legislature, Governor Walz announced that $100 million in federal dollars from the Coronavirus Relief Fund could be used to create a new housing assistance program specifically designed to maintain housing stability for families affected by COVID-19. The COVID-19 Housing Assistance Program (CHAP) was implemented to help low-income homeowners and renters with a range of expenses including mortgage, rent, and utility payments. Twin Cities Habitat began administering CHAP this summer to help provide housing assistance payments for households across the region.
Despite this movement on housing assistance, our state leaders still did not come to an agreement on a bonding bill. Debate over bonding extended past May into five months of special sessions, and Habitat continued to advocate for Housing Infrastructure Bond (HIB) investments and additional policy language for HIBs to be made available to develop affordable single-family homes.
The debate finally came to an end when the state legislature passed a $1.9 billion bonding bill on October 15. Bonding bills need a supermajority, or 60%, of the legislative body to vote in favor of the bill in order to pass, and the bill was passed with strong bipartisan support – achieving a vote of 100-34 in the House, and passing in the Senate by a vote of 64-3.
The bonding bill included historic investments in affordable housing in the form of $100 million in HIBs. In addition to this influx of funding, the bill included a new eligible use for HIBs to fund single-family housing, opening the funding source to organizations like Habitat. As Habitat faces a year with unprecedented development challenges due to COVID-19, the need for homes for families to buy has not decreased. We remain committed to providing affordable homeownership opportunities for low-income families and families of color throughout the Twin Cities, and we hope that HIBs will help us provide equitable opportunities for every household by building more affordable homes.
Thank you to every Housing Hero who helped us advocate for investments in affordable homeownership through the bonding bill this year. You helped us achieve this major win! Every meeting, phone call, email, and tweet helped your legislators understand how investing in affordable homeownership can help us work towards a reality where all our neighbors have a safe, stable place to call home.
We are now quickly pivoting to develop priority items for the next state legislative session, already set to begin in January 2021. Sign up for action alerts to stay tuned to our advocacy efforts and take action in support of affordable homeownership next year.