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House panel approves bill to restart RentHelpMN’s application process

With federal funding drying up, RentHelpMN had to stop its rental-assistance application process at the end of January.

The result left many renters and landlords without financial assistance as the pandemic continues.

Rep. Alice Hausman (DFL-Falcon Heights) has a plan to help the program to accept new applications until the June 1 eviction moratorium phaseout.

She sponsors HF3667 that, as amended, would appropriate $330 million from the state fiscal recovery fund to continue operation of RentHelpMN. The bill was approved 9-3 by the House Housing Finance and Policy Committee Thursday and referred to the House Ways and Means Committee. There is no Senate companion.

The Minnesota Housing Finance Agency was forced to set an application deadline of Jan. 28, 2022 for the RentHelpMN program. A surge of applications in January led to fear of running out of funds.

The federally funded Emergency Rental Assistance program had allocated $537 million split in two installments to Minnesota to help renters and landlords affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The agency received 100,217 applications accounting for $542.5 million in assistance prior to the deadline.

“There was a huge outcry from people across the state because we weren’t through the pandemic yet and people were still in trouble,” Hausman said. “So we immediately began to say, ‘How do we look for emergency assistance to just get us through to June when the off-ramp protection is still in place?’”

As part of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, Minnesota is expected to receive $2.83 billion for its state fiscal recovery fund. Hausman’s bill would redirect some of these funds to the Housing Finance Agency for the RentHelpMN program.

“In the month of January starting when this program ended through now the calls that I get are much more panicked,” said Shana Tomenes, an equal justice works fellow with the Housing Justice Center. “These are people who every time that an elementary school is closed means a parent or family member, a caretaker is choosing not to go to work and often one day is the difference between being able to make rent and pay utilities or not being able to make rent and pay utilities.”

Hausman said the $330 million is an estimate to finance the program until the eviction moratorium phaseout. Renters who have applied for rental assistance have certain protections from eviction under the state’s phaseout deadline of June 1, 2022.

“That doesn’t mean the problem ends in June,” Hausman said. “… This is our short-term emergency fix.” 

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