State and Local Leaders Discuss Efforts to Address Affordable Housing in Minnesota

Updated: February 17, 2020 07:10 PM

Sen. Tina Smith made a visit to Duluth Monday to discuss her findings from a study she did on housing issues in Minnesota after hosting several listening sessions with community members across the state.


She presented this with Mayor Emily Larson and AICHO leaders who are working on helping people in the community with affordable housing.

"Our homelessness has been compounded by historic trauma and ongoing trauma and violence and generational poverty. We want to send a message that we need culturally specific housing and we need those support services," said LeAnn Littlewolf, the economic development director of AICHO.

Smith said disparities in housing resulting from inequalities and discrimination among Native Americans, minorities, LGBTQ+ and people living with disabilities. She said this is one of several issues community members told her about at the listening sessions.

"The federal government has not been living up to its obligations when it comes to its trust and responsibility on tribal land and across the board, it has not lived up to its responsibilities," said Smith.

According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, there are only 37 affordable rental units for every 100 potential low-income renters nationwide. 

Among other concerns is a lack of funding for important programs like HUD's Family Self-Sufficiency program. Also a lack of shelters, transitional and permanent supportive housing. Smith said this is affecting health and economic growth across the state.

"I will continue to be a strong advocate for federal housing programs like CDBG and HOME that will help Mayor Larson and other mayor's around the state," said Smith.

Smith said she introduced an amendment to the annual spending bill that requires the Department of Agriculture to prioritize maintenance and staff needs for rural housing facilities. Smith also said she is working on getting support for the Rural Housing Preservation Act that will help families continue to receive financial help through the Department of Agriculture even when the mortgages on those properties mature.

"Solutions to the affordable housing crisis will be found at the local, state, and federal level, and will require both the public and private sector effort," said Smith. "The federal government has a powerful role to play in supporting the goal that everyone has a safe, affordable place to live, a goal that has long had bipartisan support. It's especially disappointing to see the Trump administration abandon this bipartisan goal in its most recent budget, which eliminates the very federal housing programs that Minnesotans told us during our listening sessions are so valuable."

Smith's report said the federal government has not provided any funds to build new public housing since the mid 1990s. 

Meanwhile here in Duluth, Mayor Emily Larson said the creation of a senior housing developer position and forming an affordable housing task force is helping build relationships and address housing issues.

"I do intend to be making a significant financial investment in support of a greater number of units of affordable housing in the city of Duluth," said Larson.

Larson also said changes to policies and projects like Rebuild Duluth are one of several efforts in place now to help.

"We have changed our policies to be more inclusive of accessory dwelling units and tiny houses and ensuring that people can add rental units affordably on site," said Larson.

Larson said the Affordable Housing Task Force will present its finding and recommendations in March.

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