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MHP is excited to announce the 2020 Outstanding Advocates! MHP recognizes outstanding volunteers and organizational partners who have made significant contributions to promote affordable housing solutions at the local, state, and federal levels. Favorable consideration is given to those that advance MHP’s policy goals. MHP prioritizes building relationships with and recognizing the contributions of Black, Indigenous and People of Color community members.

The 2020 Outtstanding Advocates are:

D’Angelos Svenkenson, Founder & CEO, NEOO Partners Inc.

As a member of the MHP’s first Public Policy Advisory Group, D’Angelos helped MHP develop policy recommendations and criteria that are shaping MHP’s current policy framework and agenda. He actively participated in group discussions and provided extensive feedback, drawing upon his unique experiences and perspective, on messaging, letters to policymakers, and the final report. He shared the group’s body of work with MHP’s broader network at an Investors Council Breakfast. D’Angelos lobbied lawmakers with MHP

and proactively reached out to MHP on numerous occasions to offer his assistance in additional efforts to secure the bonding bill.

Jenny Larson of Three Rivers Community Action

Jenny was critical to MHP’s advocacy for $100 million in housing assistance. She participated in emergency task force and one-on- one calls to help identify policy solutions responsive to COVID-19. She used her relationships and influence to aggressively lobby the Walz administration and lawmakers to secure this vital resource for Minnesota families. She is recognized statewide as an expert in many areas of housing. She has always made herself available to MHP staff to answer any policy question, even while implementing a new housing assistance program. Jenny responded to every request to engage and lobby lawmakers and provided insight and feedback on numerous communications with policymakers and the administration.

Nelima Sitati Munene of ACER 

Nelima partnered with MHP on several research and policy areas this past year. She has been a crucial resource to MHP staff on local, state, and national policies and campaigns. Nelima continually raised the voices and experiences of some of Minnesota’s lowest income renters. As a participant and guest speaker at MHP’s COVID-19 Housing Task Force, Nelima always advocated for resources to help elevate cost burdens impact on extremely low-income families and policies to improve housing stability, access to quality housing,

and fair and dignified treatment of renters, including evictions policies.  On numerous occasions, Nelima helped inform MHP’s policy positions, especially emergency housing assistance. She ensured MHP’s communications with policymakers, the administration, and the media reflected the experiences and needs of the tenant communities she organizes. She co-chairs Congresswoman Omar’s Eviction Task Force.

Asad Aliweyd of New American Development Center

Asad’s leadership in helping to advance local and federal advocacy efforts and his role in influencing state policy development and advocacy was critical to MHP this year. He worked across sectors and levels of government to build the public narrative around housing, with consistent focus on uplifting voices of renters, under-resourced households, and the East African community. His leadership in lobbying Hennepin County Commissioners helped secure significant increases in housing resources for the county. His relationships with Minnesota members of Congress helped MHP more deeply engage with electeds, and helped produce a forum with hundreds of attendees. He is also a founding member of Opportunity Starts at Home Minnesota Chapter. Asad was a regular participant, speaker, and policy thought leader at MHP hosted events including MHP’s Legislative Update series, speaker at the IC breakfast, and participant in MHP’s COVID-19 task force.

Chad Adams of Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership

Chad engaged directly with legislators through trips to the State Capitol and direct lobbying. He was critical in helping MHP engage with key lawmakers in Southwest Minnesota throughout regular session and special sessions. He used his relationships to help navigate complex political dynamics and foster understanding. Chad responded to odd hour and weekend texts and calls asking for his assistance to lobby lawmakers on urgent matters. He always found time to advise MHP staff on policy issues and proposals, including through participation in MHP’s COVID-19 Housing Task Force. In this forum, he highlighted unique challenges for rural Minnesota communities. Chad eagerly stepped up to serve as the Homes for All Co-Chair after initial MHP outreach. His advocacy efforts were noticed by the statewide membership, which overwhelming supported his nomination.

Swift County Collaborative

Swift County partners participated in MHP’s Housing Institute (Round 6). Following the conclusion of the institute, Swift County RDA, HRA, and the County Administration continued to advocate for policy goals in furtherance of their community development priorities. With the support of County Commissioners, they proposed and received approval for a Swift County Local Housing Trust Fund in 2020. Along the way, they worked with MHP staff to advocate at the state level for a state match for local housing trust funds, including contacting their local lawmakers including chief author Senator Andrew Lang (17, R). Swift County HRA and RDA staff worked with MHP technical assistance providers on acquiring and preserving multi-family rural rental homes (USDA Rural Development 515 properties). In so doing, they built and maintained relationships with former Congressman Colin Peterson and his staff, ensuring their federal representatives were educated on the housing needs of Swift County

MHP's Libby Murphy, Deputy Director of Policy, gives an overview of what happened on election day and what's in store for 2021 at the Minnesota Legislature. 

Minnesota voters opted for two more years of divided government. Republicans retain control of the Senate while Democrats hold onto their majority in the House.  

While some key Senate races are still being tallied, we expect the Senate GOP to maintain its 35-32 majority or a reduced 34-33 majority. House Republicans picked up six seats, reducing the DFL’s 2020 75-59 majority to 69-65.  House Republicans picked up a number of seats in suburban and rural districts and some DFL seats were replaced by more progressive successors. The new composition has the potential to further exacerbate existing rural-urban divides.  

Last week, party caucuses in each chamber met to elect their leadership. Here, again, Minnesotans will experience status quo. House DFLers reelected Melissa Hortman as Speaker of the House and Ryan Winkler as House Majority Leader.  House Republicans reelected Kurt Daudt as their House Minority Leader. In the Senate, Republicans reelected Paul Gazelka as their Majority Leader and Democrats reelected Susan Kent as their Minority Leader.  

Facing a pandemic, a big budget deficit, redistricting and a host of other issues, pundits expect a lot of tensions going into the 2021 session. With such close margins in both chambers, lawmakers will have to overcome existing fraught political dynamics and work across the aisle to pass a budget. But Minnesotans may need patience when it comes to getting much else done. House Speaker Hortman, Senate Majority Leader Gazelka and Governor Walz have all acknowledged that the coming year will be more difficult than previous years but have expressed optimism that despite disagreements on policy and budgeting, lawmakers and the Governor will have a productive working relationship. 

The roughly $4 billion budget deficit amidst the ongoing pandemic will dominate the 2021 session. Lawmakers will need to make extremely tough choices. While Democrats will look to sources of new revenues, Republicans will likely focus on identifying perceived inefficiencies to cut.  

Cooperation could prove difficult as Republicans and Governor Walz continue to disagree over the governor’s use of executive powers. Republicans ousted two commissioners in summer special sessions. The Senate GOP could continue to exert their power to remove commissioners in an effort to check the governor’s agenda.  

Housing advocates across the state are busy educating voters and candidates about housing issues. 

Housing as an issue is hitting home for more and more Minnesotans. Encampments during the COVID19 pandemic have put a spotlight on the need for affordable homes, shelters, and housing services. Many Minnesotans are filled with anxiety as eviction and foreclosure moratoriums come closer to expiring, and households with large housing debts wonder how they’ll keep their homes. Lawmakers, perhaps sensing this anxiety,  approved the largest package of bonds for housing in the history of Minnesota ($100 million in Housing Infrastructure Bonds and $16 million in general obligation bonds) during October’s special session.

Minnesota Housing Partnership (MHP) and Homes for All MN are busy at work this election season gathering responses to the 2020 Candidate Questionnaire on Housing Issues. The questionnaire was sent to all candidates for Minnesota House and Minnesota Senate. Candidate responses are available on the MHP website (www.mhponline.org/policy/advocacy/2020-candidate-questionnaire). Dozens of candidates from the three major parties (Democratic-Farmer-Laborer, Legalize Marijuana Now, and Republican) have responded, reflecting statewide interest in housing. 

Homes for All MN members helped amplify the candidate questionnaire. Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless used their state-wide network to encourage responses. Habitat Minnesota has promoted the candidate questionnaire to its affiliates, volunteers and Habitat 500 bike ride participants. MICAH (Metropolitan Interfaith Council on Affordable Housing) sent the candidate questionnaire to thousands and encouraged its chapter/regional leaders to ask candidates to complete the questionnaire. CommonBond Communities, which owns, manages, and develops affordable homes across the state, engaged its housing advocate volunteers in asking candidates to complete the questionnaire. 

Housing partners utilized social media to encourage candidates to respond to the questionnaire, and highlighting candidate by name who have responded. To help make this quick and easy, MHP developed a promo-kit of pre-drafted content that could be cut and pasted into social media posts. MHP also hosted a twitter storm, with over twenty (20) participating organizations. As well, MHP organized a candidate engagement webinar to promote the questionnaire, with tips for non-partisan activities.  

Housing advocates have been highly active in Minnesota in 2020, using a variety of initiatives to amplify the need for solutions to candidates and voters: 

  • Many housing advocacy organizations have increased their voter engagement activities, helping make the connection between voting and home. The New American Development Center, African Career Education & Resources (ACER), and Jewish Community Action are three grassroots housing advocacy organizations actively organizing voter registration and connecting residents to voting resources. 
  • African Career Education & Resources (ACER) canvassers have worked for months reaching residents with voter registration information along with housing assistance resources. Get out the vote efforts have included pairing free produce giveaways with voting information. 
  • Catholic Charities of St Paul and Minneapolis has been leading voter outreach for staff, residents and clients at all its program sites across the Twin Cities. For individuals experiencing homelessness, including those at Catholic Charities emergency shelters and opportunity centers, activities have included encouraging early registration, educating on options to vote early in person or on election day, and ensure individuals are available to vouch for anyone who’s registration and ballot is more likely to be challenged. 
  • Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity created a Candidate Conversation Guide, encouraging its thousands of volunteers and homeowners to speak with candidates about the importance of affordable homeownership and to “Vote for Home.”  
  • Beacon Interfaith Housing Collaborative hosted multiple candidate forums on housing issues and prepared a list of suggested questions for engaging candidates on housing, engaging their dozens of member congregations in housing advocacy. 
  • CommonBond Communities joined the NLIHC Housing Providers Council, increasing its efforts to assist residents to vote.  
  • Multi-sector housing advocacy partners, who work in other areas of advocacy in addition to housing, have also increased their electoral season engagement. The Arc Minnesota, a Homes for All MN member, has been the lead partner in Rev UP MN, a group of 22 organizations focused on disability advocacy. Activities have included a mailing of 50,000 postcards, social media campaign, and questionnaire for state legislative candidates on disability issues. 

Libby Murphy, MHP's Deputy Policy Director, provides an update about the bonding bill and what it means for housing going forward.

On October 14, the Minnesota Legislature passed a $1.87 billion bonding and tax bill with overwhelming bipartisan support. Thanks to the persistence of advocates, lawmakers were forced to overcome partisan differences and finally pass a bonding bill in their fifth special session after failing to reach agreement in regular session or in the four previous special sessions.

A bonding bill requires a supermajority of lawmakers in each chamber to pass. The DFL controlled House only needed six votes. The House’s first attempt to pass a bonding bill at the end of regular session n May gained no Republican support and failed on a 75-58 vote. Last week, 25 GOP members voted in favor of the bill, securing a 100-34 vote. It passed in the Senate by a 64-3 vote.

This bonding bill includes hundreds of infrastructure improvement projects around the state, including $100 million in Housing Infrastructure Bonds (HIBS) and $16 million in General Obligation (GO) bonds for housing. HIBS will help to create and preserve roughly 500-1000 homes. The GO bonds will help maintain existing public housing units.

Calculating the impact of the bonding investment in housing is challenging because HIBs can be used for a number of eligible uses, including new supportive housing, preservation of existing federally subsidized housing, manufactured housing, and land for land trust homes. Lawmakers, hoping to do more to address persistent homeownership gaps, expanded eligible uses of HIB to build single-family homes. The Homes for All coalition’s request to add “deeper affordability” to build units for households at or below 50% of AMI without supportive services did not make it into the final package.

The bill also included some tax relief for small businesses and farmers. A regular session Senate tax bill had included 4d tax relief for affordable housing while the original House tax bill included a provision to capture $4 million annually of the mortgage registry and deed taxes to fund the Workforce Homeownership and Affordable Housing Program. This capture was included in some special session House and Senate proposals but lawmakers, ultimately, excluded the provision from the final bill.

For the first time, the bonding bill included several “Equity Appropriations” that allocate money for communities that have been left out of the funding process in the past. There are also provisions aimed at ensuring local governments follow the state’s workforce participation goals and equal-pay protections for communities of color and women.

The bonding bill also includes $4.5 million in bonds for a Perspective Family Center in St. Louis Park. These funds can be used for a variety of purposes to support the welfare of homeless children, including supportive housing.

While it could be months before the infrastructure projects financed by the new bonds will get underway, passage of this bonding bill is a relief to housing advocates. More projects that applied to Minnesota Housing for funding in July and who applied in hopes of new and robust state investments will be able to move forward as a result of this bill.

Check out Session Daily for a summary of what is in the bill