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Bill could boost temporary housing program for low-income people with mental illnesses

More low-income Minnesotans with mental illnesses could receive short-term housing assistance while waiting for Section 8 vouchers or public housing.

HF1860, sponsored by Rep. Liz Reyer (DFL-Eagan), would increase funding for the Bridges Rental Assistance Program from $4.3 million to $5.1 million annually in fiscal years 2022 and 2023.

As amended, the bill was laid over for possible omnibus bill inclusion Tuesday by the House Housing Finance and Policy Committee. Its companion, SF1839, is sponsored by Sen. Lindsey Port (DFL-Burnsville) and awaits action by the Senate Housing Finance and Policy Committee.

"We have a great opportunity here," Reyer said.

Stable housing is crucial in treating mental illness, according to the House Finance Agency's biennial budget recommendation. But low-income people with mental illness often live in emergency shelters, institutions, with family or friends or in housing that is more expensive than they can afford.

The Bridges program helps provide stability by covering rent, security and utility deposits and utility costs for 90 days for people with incomes at or below 50% of the area median.

It is available in 70 Minnesota counties and currently serves over 800 individuals and families, said Sam Smith, public policy coordinator at NAMI Minnesota.

Savage resident Nicholas Rasmussen, a software engineer and entrepreneur who had a psychotic breakdown in 2013, said the Bridges program kept him from becoming homeless when his house was foreclosed upon during a psychiatric unit stay.

He said housing-choice vouchers aren't readily available in Scott County.

The Housing Finance Agency has requested an additional $250,000 annually beyond $4.3 million for the program in fiscal years 2022 and 2023, which it says would allow it to serve an additional 70 households.

Reyer's bill would also provide a $100,000 boost to a risk-mitigation fund that reimburses landlords when renters with mental illness damage a unit or don't pay rent.

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