Minnesota needs to build 10,000 affordable housing units, each year over the next five years and statewide, to meet the demand from low- and moderate-income families, according to a comprehensive report produced last week by the Governor’s Task Force on Housing. The inability of the market to meet these demands will require public investment and the task force came up with a whopping 80 ideas and 30 recommendations that policy-makers can pursue, including the creation of a dedicated funding stream and vouchers for low-income renters. The affordable housing crunch emerged as a top priority in our “Thriving by Design: Rural & Urban Together” convening in Granite Falls this summer. And it is one of the clearest examples of how rural and metro needs overlap. A recent article by MinnPost reporter Greg Aamot outlined some hopeful developments and showed how leaders in Greater Minnesota are responding to the crisis by preserving existing rental units and taking advantage of state loan funds. This statement in the task force report provides a powerful rationale for affordable housing investment as an equity imperative: “Fair and equitable access to safe, quality, stable housing for all families and individuals is critical for success in education, health and economic stability, and disparities resulting from differences in race, ethnicity, income and location must be addressed.”
For more than a decade, Growth & Justice has been advocating for family home visiting programs to help at-risk families with early childhood development and to foster healthy and productive living. Funding in recent years has finally come through and earlier this summer the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) announced new grants for nearly one-third of the counties in the state to increase family home visiting. Through the expanded programs, a nurse or other trained professional provides practical health and parenting support to parents and pregnant women during ongoing home visits until the child is 2 to 3 years old. National research has shown a return on investment in the range of $2.88 to $5.70 for every dollar spent to serve high-risk families through the Nurse-Family Partnership home visiting program. The new round of grants authorized by the 2017 Legislature and signed into law by Governor Dayton includes more than $25 million for 16 community grantees in both the Twin Cities and greater Minnesota, benefitting 26 new counties and one tribal nation. Over the last year, Minnesota has successfully supported planning, start-up and expansion of evidence-based family home visiting programs in three tribal nations and 51 counties. More information about family home visiting is available on the MDH website at Family Home Visiting Program.
Literally not being counted is a fundamental problem for those on the wrong sides of our widening racial and regional disparities, and our overall economic inequality. The importance of a complete and thorough 2020 Census, especially for rural regions, was highlighted in a recent statement by Kathy Annette, president of the Blandin Foundation, and who also has been appointed by Gov. Mark Dayton as founding co-chair of the Minnesota Complete Count Committee. Urban leaders have often complained about being undercounted, but Annette notes that an inadequate count has big impacts for Minnesota’s rural communities, including: allocation of political power through reapportionment of seats in Congress (and Minnesota is at real risk of losing a seat); distribution of federal funds through funding formulas (thousands of dollars per person); civil rights enforcement through fair housing laws, the Voting Rights Act, and other legislation; business site selection when companies are deciding where to expand, where to bring their jobs; and community planning for schools and hospitals. Rural communities with high levels of poverty, as well as Native Americans living on reservations, are traditionally undercounted, according to both the Minnesota Demographer’s Office and the U.S. Census Bureau. Annette also flags a “last-minute curve ball that must be reversed,’’ namely a proposed question about citizenship. In a recent letter to the Commerce Department , Annette said: “I know personally, based on conversations I have had throughout rural Minnesota, that the very persons who are traditionally undercounted will be further driven from participation in the 2020 Census, out of fear and mistrust, should the proposed citizenship question continue.”
“We are just scratching the surface of what’s needed in terms of (affordable housing) rehab. There is a lot of need out here.”—Dale Slagter, Kandiyohi County Housing Rehabilitation Manager, in MinnPost article cited above.