Column: Despite $100 million investment in housing, many needs remain
By COLLEEN O’CONNOR TOBERMAN, Minnesota 2020
ST. PAUL — Thanks to many years of advocacy and education, this year’s bonding bill includes a record-breaking $100 million investment in affordable housing. This money will benefit every corner of the state as Minnesota Housing awards it to the nonprofits, public housing agencies and developers building or rehabilitating affordable housing in their communities.
While this is a tremendous accomplishment, we can’t fool ourselves into believing that these housing bonds will fix all of Minnesota’s homelessness and affordability woes.
To get the most bang for our bonding buck, we need to make continued investments in two key areas: maintenance and supportive services.The housing we build or rehab will eventually need repairs. Some of this year’s bonding money will go to preserve and renovate old affordable-housing stock, much of it suffering from years of deferred maintenance. We all know that catching up on these repairs can be more costly than keeping up with them in the first place. Continued investments in affordable housing can keep us from landing in an expensive quandary again.We also need continued investment in the supportive services provided with some housing programs. Many people in need of affordable housing only need a decent home at a decent price; nothing more. But others have barriers that are keeping them in poverty: underemployment, health problems, a history of homelessness etc. Maintaining stable housing (which we know is less costly than homelessness) may require some extra support. They may need a case manager, health services or job training. Separate funding is required to make sure that those most in need can access the buildings our bonding investment will create.We also need to remember that the estimated 5,000 units this year’s bonds will create or rehab aren’t enough. When over 14,000 Minnesotans are homeless every night and over 600,000 households are cost-burdened, it’s clear that the need for even more housing remains.For Minnesota to reap the greatest returns on this session’s housing investment, we must continue to invest. We can’t pat ourselves on the back for a great 2014 and then rest on our laurels until we hit another crisis point. Ensuring that every Minnesotan has a stable, affordable place to call home is an ongoing responsibility that we must continue to take seriously.
Colleen O’Connor Toberman is a Minnesotra 2020 Hindsight Community Fellow.