Why Housing is a Bonding Bill Priority
As the Minnesota Legislature and Governor Dayton work on their respective bonding bills, housing and homeless advocates are seeking $40 million in bonding money for affordable housing. Their vision for this $40 million includes preservation and improvement of federally subsidized affordable housing, development of supportive housing for those experiencing long-term homelessness, and creation of more housing opportunities for low-income households.
While housing will likely be only a small portion of the final bonding bill, it is a critical investment for all Minnesotans. Here are some of the reasons we can't afford to overlook housing in 2012:
Affordable housing is urgently needed. Minnesota has a serious housing affordability problem. Minnesota's rental vacancy rate has reached a ten-year low, causing rents to rise. Foreclosures have left neighborhoods littered with vacant homes in need of repair.
Housing is a sound investment. Housing preservation is a crucial piece of this bonding proposal. Much of our affordable housing stock is 20-30 years old and requires efficiency improvements to lower operating costs. Publicly-owned housing could decline past the point of repair without interventions. Private landlords who serve low-income tenants have a tough time affording major updates without raising rents. In the next five years Minnesota risks losing up to 10,000 of these units if landlords opt to leave affordability programs such as Section 8 in order to make ends meet.
In addition, housing bonds leverage outside investment. One dollar in state investment into federally-assisted housing secures $5.50 in federal funding. State spending on other housing programs also leverages significant investment from nonprofits, housing developers, and private investors.
Housing also yields long-term taxpayer savings in education, social services, and health care because people in unstable crisis situations tend to use expensive crisis-care services. One recent study in Hennepin County targeted the heaviest users of homeless shelters, jail, emergency rooms, and detox centers. By providing permanent supportive housing and other service interventions, the program saved taxpayers an average of $13,000 per each individual housed. Children and youth (who comprise nearly half of the state's homeless population) achieve better educational and health outcomes when they have a stable home.
Housing bonds will benefit the entire state. Unlike some bonding projects proposed for localized communities, housing bonds will be distributed statewide through a competitive process overseen by the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency. This provides trusted oversight and directs resources based on community need and project-readiness. Given that one-third of homeless Minnesotans live outside the metro area, we need this coordinated statewide effort.
In my work at Our Saviour's Housing I often tell people that ending homelessness isn't rocket science. We have excellent program models, proven successes, and demonstrated taxpayer savings. What we don't have is the community and political will to provide sufficient housing for those in need. Forty million in improved and expanded affordable housing is an investment opportunity we can't afford to pass up.
Colleen O'Connor Toberman is Volunteer Coordinator at Our Saviour's Housing in Minneapolis. Our Saviour's works to end adult homelessness with a range of programs that provide shelter, support, and a chance to start over. Our Saviour’s Housing is part of Our Saviour’s Community Services.