ST PAUL, Minn. — A newly available rent aid program in Minnesota, called RentHelpMN, is now accepting applications.
The program promises to help eligible renters catch up on overdue rent and utility payments dating back to March 13, 2020. It also specifically offers assistance to Minnesotans who have fallen behind on rent due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The funding for the program comes from the federal COVID relief bill passed in December 2020. It provided $375 million to Minnesota for emergency rental assistance, and people can use it to pay past-due or future rent for three months at a time for up to 12 months. According to the Minnesota Housing Department's website, the assistance is for "low-income renter households at or below 80% of area median income (AMI), with a priority for households below 50% AMI and households that have been unemployed 90+ days."
In a press briefing on Friday, Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan joined other state housing officials to highlight the program and emphasize its importance.
"We're excited about this, we're hopeful about this," Walz said. "It's a way to make folks a little more whole as we move back to that normal, but we can't leave folks behind and we cannot have a cascade of evictions that both decimate families, community -- and economically, that would be catastrophic."
Lt. Gov. Flanagan added that while the need for rental assistance has always existed, the program has become particularly necessary due to the pandemic as unemployment rates rose and people were asked to stay home.
"We know that COVID has impacted our lowest income workers, and those who were hardest hit are the same families who pay more than 50% of their income on housing," Flanagan said. "Last year, we acted quickly to put together one of the most comprehensive eviction moratoria in the country, and we knew that providing rental assistance to renters and owners was going to be critical."
Minnesota Housing Commissioner Jennifer Ho encouraged renters to take the time to ensure their applications to the program are entirely complete when they are submitted, so assistance can be given to them as quickly as possible.
She said because of the "enormous" sum from the COVID relief bill passed in December as well as the bill passed in March, people should not be afraid that they will miss their chance to get help.
"It's not a lottery," Ho said. "It's not going to be open last week and closed next week. We're going to be running this program well into 2022. The March additional money is going to allow us to do that. So this is isn't a sprint. The best thing to do is just be prepared, do a complete application."
Flanagan and Walz also encouraged the Minnesota Legislature to work together to build a comprehensive end to the current eviction moratorium.
Walz said at the briefing on Friday that he believes the Legislature is close to finding an "off-ramp" to transition out of the moratorium, and that he will not end it without one.
"Eviction moratoriums in place saved up to 200,000 lives during the pandemic, had they been pushed into the street, had there been more interaction," Walz said. "This decision on the eviction moratorium was simultaneously, care about the individual being there, but it was a public health decision, too. Now as we're coming to the end of the public health emergency, it makes sense for us to start finding those off-ramps. And this program is a huge one."