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$500 million in bonds proposed to create, maintain affordable housing statewide

April Chouinard, right, and Kari Johnson, center, policy co-chair of Homes for All, testify before the House Housing Finance and Policy Division Feb. 19 in support of a bill sponsored by Rep. Alice Hausman, left, that would issue housing infrastructure bonds. Photo by Andrew VonBank

Two weeks before graduating from her intensive in-patient treatment program, April Chouinard felt more hopeless than ever.

She had worked hard to recover from homelessness, abuse, and addiction, but now, with nowhere to go, she doubted that she would be able to stay sober and safe – much less reunite with her three children.

Then she was offered a place at Solace Apartments, a 30-unit supportive housing complex.

“Signing that lease was the most profound moment of my entire life,” and provided the foundation she needed to take care of her children, Chouinard told the House Housing Finance and Policy Division Wednesday.

“Nothing else goes well if you don’t have a safe place to sleep at night” Rep. Alice Hausman (DFL-St. Paul) said. “… When that happens, lives can be transformed.”

She sponsors HF3326, which would authorize $500 million in housing infrastructure bonds and state general obligation bonds.

It was approved by the division, as amended, and sent to the House Capital Investment Division. Similar legislation, SF3257, sponsored by Sen. David Senjem (R-Rochester), awaits action by the Senate Capital Investment Committee.

Bond financing for housing discussed 2/19/20

Of the $400 million in housing infrastructure bonds, $40 million would be designated for emergency shelters.

The bill would also expand the allowable uses of housing infrastructure bonds to include the construction, acquisition, and rehabilitation of permanent affordable housing for people at or below 50 percent of the area median income. Preference would be given to proposals targeting households at or below 30 percent of area median income.

The $100 million in general obligation bonds would go toward preserving and improving existing public housing.

Public housing is a “critical piece” of the housing continuum, and provides “safe and affordable” housing for people who wouldn’t otherwise access it, said Allison Streich, co-chair of Homes for All.

Stable housing improves outcomes in education and health, and makes finding and keeping jobs easier.

“Stable housing is an economic issue, it’s a workforce issue” and will impact Minnesota’s economic competitiveness, said Paul Williams, president and CEO of Project for Pride in Living, which has provided affordable housing and job training to 13,000 people throughout the Twin Cities.

Housing Infrastructure bonds have been vitally important to Pride in Living projects, allowing the organization to move quickly. Without them, projects would be delayed two to three years as they wait for funding, he said.

But, for every one project that gets full funding, three more don’t, Williams said.

Hausman told the division that, while $100 million may sound like a lot of money, it’s actually less than a third of what is needed to meet projected housing needs across the state — though it’s significantly more than the $5 million a year currently available.

“We fall behind each year,” she said. “It’s an aggressive agenda.” 

Rep. Duane Sauke (DFL-Rochester), Rep. Frank Hornstein (DFL-Mpls), and Rep. Robert Bierman (DFL-Apple Valley) urged additional investment, with Bierman noting the importance of public-private partnerships in reaching a solution.

Rep. Michael Howard (DFL-Richfield) stressed that the amount proposed doesn’t even address the loss of naturally occurring affordable housing.

“This session, we shouldn’t be satisfied unless we make a historic investment in housing,” he said.

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