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Legislative News and Views - Rep. Michael Howard (DFL)

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House Passes Housing Bill with new program to preserve Naturally-Occurring Affordable Housing

Friday, April 16, 2021

Howard says first-of-its-kind bill informed by experience of Richfield community members

St. Paul, MN - Yesterday, the Minnesota House approved the Omnibus Housing Bill, which funds a variety of programs aimed at helping create more affordable housing, and provisions to ensure Minnesotans are safely and stably housed, including Rep. Michael Howard’s (DFL - Richfield) legislation funding the Naturally-Occurring Affordable Housing (NOAH) program.

This new initiative would represent the first investment made at the state level to preserve NOAH, our state’s largest source of affordable housing. Howard said the genesis of this new program is borne from the experience in our community when the purchase and redevelopment of Crossroads at Penn displaced more than 2,000 Richfield residents.

“Our community knows the pain all too well when developers purchase naturally-occurring affordable housing and transition it into luxury apartments,” said Rep. Michael Howard. “Richfield is not unique. Every year we are losing thousands of units of affordable housing and it’s imperative the state step up to help solve this problem. We simply cannot afford to turn a blind eye any longer.”

Naturally-Occurring Affordable Housing refers to residential rental properties that are affordable, but are unsubsidized by public dollars. These aging properties exist throughout much of the state and represent the largest source of affordable housing in Minnesota. In recent years, a tight rental market has made these properties desirable to developers to purchase and redevelop, increasing rents and displacing renters. Minnesota Housing estimates that statewide we are losing 2,000 units of NOAH housing per year.

“We cannot build ourselves out of our affordable housing crisis,” said Howard. “Unless we preserve and improve our existing affordable housing we will never be able to build a future in our state where all Minnesotans can access a quality, safe, affordable place to live. This is an issue of equity, justice and the resilience of communities across our state.”

Currently, non-profit housing providers purchase NOAH housing to revitalize it and keep it affordable. That is what occurred in Richfield in 2017 when AEON purchased Season’s Park, preserving the homes of more than 1,000 Richfield community members. Unfortunately, the need across our state far outpaces the ability of non-profits to compete, often with hedge-fund investors from out-of-state. The NOAH program proposed by Howard would invest $6.5 million in state dollars to help stretch those dollars further.

Howard thanked city leaders and community members in Richfield and Bloomington for their input and support in creating this new program.

“I am grateful for the support of former Crossroads residents as well as city leaders who shared our experience in our community and helped us build momentum and support for this vital program,” said Howard.

The omnibus Housing bill which includes this program passed on a vote of 69-62 in the Minnesota House.