Walz, Flanagan discuss issue of housing security during COVID-19 pandemic

Gov. Tim Walz Photo: KSTP. Gov. Tim Walz

Crystal Bui/KSTP
Updated: December 03, 2020 06:10 PM
Created: December 03, 2020 03:17 PM

During the state’s regular COVID-19 briefing on Thursday, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan highlighted the state's efforts to support Minnesotans experiencing homelessness and ensure everyone can afford to stay in their homes during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"This issue is always paramount," Walz said. "It was incredibly important pre-COVID, and again COVID did highlight those needs and highlight the weakness in our system."

For many facing financial hardship, December's rent payment may have felt like it came too soon.

"Minnesota has faced a housing crisis for a very long time, and the pandemic as only exposed and exacerbated that crisis," Flanagan said on the statewide phone call, Thursday. "We need to sustain support at all levels of government to protect people, to keep them in their homes and to bring them into homes."

Both Walz and Flanagan urged those who may face precarity in regards to housing to take advantage of the state’s housing assistance program. The program is available until Monday, and so far more than 25,000 Minnesotans have accessed the program, requesting more than $67 million in assistance.

"Working to keep people housed and support people experiencing homelessness has been a cornerstone of our pandemic response," the lieutenant governor said. “Because housing is a public health issue and homelessness is a public health issue.”

"Tell your friends and family about the housing assistance program. Tell them to call 211 if they're struggling with housing or bills, and to do it soon," Flanagan added.

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According to Flanagan, the Minnesota Legislature has put $190 million worth of state and federal funding toward housing during the pandemic.

During the briefing, Minnesotans heard from a resident who has benefited from the state’s housing program.

Katrina Hall, an Albert Lea resident, said her job ended in March due to the pandemic. Hall also began taking care of her mother, who she said is vulnerable to the coronavirus.

Hall eventually found the state’s renters assistance program and was approved.

"I can’t say enough how much this program has meant to me and my family," Hall said.

She also added, "It’s really changed my life."

Minnesotans also heard from Emily Bastian, whose organization, Avivo, is working to help those experiencing homelessness during the pandemic.

According to Bastian, Avivo is set to open a shelter that will be able to accommodate 100 people.

Bastian said, during the pandemic, Avivo has helped those living in encampments find shelter and permanent housing.

"There is no one path from homelessness to permanent housing. At Avivo, our priority is housing first," Bastian said.

At the beginning of the pandemic, Walz issued an eviction moratorium, tied to the peacetime emergency that prevents residents from being evicted from their homes due to non-payment. But what will happen if and when the peacetime emergency is lifted?

"It's not really in anybody's interest to just have the — as folks have been saying — an 'avalanche of evictions.' So I'm hoping that we'll be able to have a good conversation with the legislature this session," Minnesota Housing Commissioner Jennifer Ho said.

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS asked the governor if there are any plans in place to protect people who are facing rent increases.

"I think those are on-going conversations," Walz said. "I would like to highlight the great partnership we've had with building management and with landlords. It's been tough on them, but they've really stepped up. So those conversations will happen. We're obviously watching what the federal government does too in their next package."

The application portal is open at 211unitedway.org.


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