Minnesota Housing has allocated $518 million toward rent relief through their RentHelpMN program. Frustrations are rising as less than 15% of the funds have been distributed since the start of the program in April 2020.
“Even before the pandemic, we knew that many Minnesotans struggled to find housing they could afford,” said Jennifer Ho, commissioner of Minnesota Housing. “RentHelpMN stabilizes housing situations for at-risk renters by covering their overdue rent, utility bills and other related expenses.”
With the purpose of providing support to individuals struggling from the stresses of COVID-19, RentHelpMN promises protection for applicants and those with pending applications. Applicants provide information about their financial situation, including job status, income and housing situation.
Once a renter applies to the program, they can not be evicted, but they are still held responsible for the rent they have agreed to pay in their rental agreement. The application process involves several screening questions that help inform applicants if they will likely qualify or not.
Starting Sept. 12, renters who broke their leases were able to be evicted. People who qualify for rental assistance have until Oct. 12 to apply before they are eligible for eviction, The Minnesota Daily reported.
The program received 40,041 applications totaling $226 million in aid as of Sept. 2. Currently, there is no official deadline for the program, but the tentative deadline for distributing the funds is June 2022.
For housing managers, it has been a different story. Cecil Smith, president and CEO of Minnesota Multi Housing Association, voiced his disappointment with the program.
“It’s just on and on,” Smith said. “There’s been terrible bureaucratic problems with processing applications and incredibly slow distribution of money.”
Smith owns and manages several properties. He shared that he had a resident who applied for the program in April 2021. After hearing nothing from the program for five months, they received an email asking for verification about a property question that could be answered through public records.
“It’s almost like whatever could go wrong, went wrong,” Smith said.
Smith said that several of his tenants have applied for the program and some received money, but every one had issues with either timeliness or the application process.
Minnesota Housing said they recognized the frustrations of Minnesota residents, in their recent media presentation in early September. They stated they are continually refining their processes to improve payment speed and are adding more processing and accounting staff.
Dr. Edward Goetz, director of the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs at the University of Minnesota, shared that rental relief programs have historically been challenging.
“This is a problem that is happening all across the nation,” Dr. Goetz said. “The logistics of getting that much rental assistance out, making sure that it’s being done in a responsive way and that it’s going where it’s needed. It’s just been really difficult for local governments to implement. I’m not excusing (RentHelpMN), I’m just saying it’s a problem we’ve seen everywhere across the country.”
Dr. Goetz said he believes it is important that programs like RentHelpMN are accessible to University students because most students are renters.
However, several loopholes make it challenging for students to qualify for RentHelpMN.
“When there are multiple adults in a household, they all need to apply on one application . All of the income is considered in calculating the household income, and the request is based on the amount of past due rent,” said Amanda Welliver, Minnesota Department of Housing communication specialist, in an email to the Minnesota Daily.
It can prove difficult for students to qualify because all roommates living in the same household or unit have to qualify for rent to be distributed.
“(Property managers and renters) can’t afford to sit on this burden any longer while the government sits on hundreds of millions of dollars,” Smith said.