Minnesota lawmakers unveil $3B plan to tackle youth homelessness, housing disparities

On Tuesday, lawmakers unveiled a plan to tackle homelessness among children along with racial disparities in homeownership in Minnesota.

The $3 billion proposal was unveiled by DFL lawmakers on Wednesday, saying with the $17.5 billion state budget surplus, now is the time to make that ask.

"So homeownership is one of the pathways to building generational wealth in this country," said Rep. Esther Agbaje.

In recent years, there has been an increased focus on helping create first-time homeowners, particularly people of color. Even so, say housing advocates and legislators, the barriers never seem to ease and a big racial divide remains.

"That is why we are unapologetic about the fact that some of our programs focus on ensuring that our Black and brown Minnesotans are the ones to receive that assistance and that investment," Rep. Esther Agbaje said.

The DFL housing proposals are big, $3 billion total, arguing housing and homelessness must become a bigger priority.

"If our entire state general fund budget was a gallon jug of water, we would spend less than a tablespoon on housing," added Rep. Mike Howard.

The money, in a variety of proposals, would build more affordable homes, rehab and repair others, and provide more down payment assistance. With the aim of cutting racial disparities, it would provide more rent assistance to families paying 30 percent or more of their income, estimated at 40,000 families in Minnesota.

The goal there, they say, is to end youth homelessness by the end of the decade.

"We are calling on legislative leaders to set generous housing and bonding budget targets, so we can end child and youth homelessness," said Dr. Janna Gewirtz O’Brien said. "Close the gross and disparate racial gaps in housing, and build more homes."

The proposals are double what is currently in the governor’s budget for housing. So even in the party in full control at the capitol, there are big differences. But, backers say, their goals are the same.

"The thing that we all agree with is there needs to be dedicated funding for housing," Sen. Lindsey Port said.