Homeless aid could increase this session

A new bill could allocate $100M for building affordable housing.

Roy Aker

State legislators are recommending more funding for affordable housing as the state’s homeless population rises.

This legislative session, state leaders are proposing the largest affordable housing investment, and advocates say the recommendation could help lower the number of homeless Minnesotans.

Gov. Mark Dayton released his more than $1 billion bonding proposal Jan. 15, recommending $50 million for foreclosure recovery, housing infrastructure and rehabilitation.

Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, who is authoring a bonding bill in the House of Representatives that allocates $100 million for affordable housing, said as homelessness rises, this state spending is crucial.

“It’s simply unprecedented,” she said.

From 2009 to 2012, homelessness in Minnesota increased by 6 percent, according to a 2013 study by Wilder Research.

Due to the many competing needs for state funding, affordable housing has sometimes taken a backseat, Hausman said.

Hausman, chair of the House’s Capital Investment Committee, which makes bonding decisions, said if the state passes this legislation, the effects will strengthen the state’s investments in health care and education.

“Our education dollar is not well spent when those children don’t even have a place to sleep,” Hausman said.

University of Minnesota family social science senior Julie Ann Orenstein interned at Beacon Interfaith Housing Collaborative last semester, where she helped rally support for Hausman’s legislation.

“Having a place to live obviously creates a foundation of stability for all the other things you do in your life: education, getting a job and raising a family,” Orenstein said.

Families and children are the fastest-growing segment of the homeless population in the state, tripling from 1991 to 2009, according to a 2013 University Extension report.

Children make up more than 59 percent of the shelter population in Minnesota, according to the same report.

Stereotypes of people who are homeless exist in the state Legislature and can sometimes skew support, Hausman said.

University psychology junior Sarah Kiminski volunteered at the Family Place day shelter in St. Paul last semester and said most people at the shelter were women and their children. She said state legislators don’t always have that idea.

“They picture a male drug addict or alcoholic,” she said.

Hausman’s $100 million request has been referred to the Housing, Finance and Policy Committee, and a date has not yet been scheduled for its first hearing.

Dan Kitzberger, policy director at the Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless, said Dayton’s bonding recommendation is a great start as advocates begin lobbying at the Capitol this session.

Besides recent statistics that show the homeless population is on the rise, Hausman said, lobbyists have unified their voice at the Legislature, hoping this year is the most successful.

“They’re all together for this proposal; they’re all asking for the same thing and working hard all over the state,” she said.