ST. PAUL — There is approximately $30 million left in Minnesota's assistance fund for homeowners and tenants affected by the coronavirus pandemic and a window of several weeks left to spend it, according to the State Housing Finance Agency.
Whatever is left after Dec. 30 will likely be returned to the federal government along with other stimulus funds Congress gave to Minnesota. The pandemic's effects on household finances, by comparison, could very well linger after the money is gone.
"Minnesotans under 300% of federal poverty guidelines with past due rent, mortgage or utility payments are encouraged to call 211 to see if they’re eligible," the agency said Friday, Nov. 6, in a statement to Forum News Service. "They may also start an application at 211unitedway.org. While there is no deadline to apply, interested applicants are encouraged to act now as funds are limited and the program will end on or before Dec. 30, 2020."
The Walz administration announced in July the launch of the $100 million housing program to help fend off what housing advocates feared would be a displacement crisis. Job losses and pay cuts inflicted by the pandemic, they said, could hamper the ability of some Minnesotans to make rent or mortgage payments.
"For some Minnesotans, a lost job or unexpected expenses have put their housing at risk," Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan said at the time. "This housing assistance will help us keep individuals and families in their homes throughout this pandemic."
Funding for the program came from Minnesota's $853 million chunk of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES, which Congress passed in late March. Some counties and local nonprofit organizations in Minnesota used CARES money they received to start more targeted housing assistance funds of their own.
The state housing program provides payments for past-due rent, mortgage or utility bills directly to the person, bank or company the applicant owes. There is no cap on the amount of money that can be paid out in an individual case.
Although some 21,000 applications requesting a combined $51.9 million have so far been submitted to the state program, according to the latest state housing agency figures, many more Minnesotans may still be struggling to get by because of the pandemic. (Money earmarked for the program also goes toward administrative costs.)
In the months since housing aid programs launched, HOME Line Executive Director Eric Hauge said his colleagues have referred numerous callers to them. Those calls to the St. Paul-based tenant advocacy group's legal help line continue to come in even months later.
"We're still hearing pretty consistently from renters throughout the state," Hauge said.
Barring another act of Congress, though, any CARES money left unspent after Dec. 30 must be returned to the federal government. That deadline and the time it takes for assistance applications to be processed and approved may make it harder for some Minnesotans to get help, according to Hauge.
So long as Gov. Tim Walz's peacetime emergency remains in effect, so too does its ban on residential evictions. Even if Walz opts not to renew the emergency declaration when it expires next week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's federal eviction moratorium would still be in place.
Homeowners with federally backed mortgages are similarly protected from foreclosure actions, as are tenants of federally mortgaged property.
Property owners who are owed rent might still be able to file for eviction after those protections are rescinded, however. And whether more aid will be needed after the CARES act sunsets remains to be seen.
"I think there will still be a need out there. I think the magnitude of the need is going to depend on the severity and the duration of COVID-19 as a disruptor of our economy," Twin Rivers Habitat for Humanity Executive Director Kevin Worden said.
Worden, whose organization is one of several dozen helping to administer funds from the state housing assistance fund, said there are other more traditional and foreclosure prevention programs that homeowners might be able to turn to if they face continued hardships after Dec. 30.
Contact Matthew Guerry at firstname.lastname@example.org or 651-321-4314