Struggling Minnesota renters will soon have access to $500 million in assistance

Minnesota's housing commissioner says struggling renters and homeowners will soon be able to apply for at least $500 million in federal assistance.

Minnesota is likely to get $200 million in housing aid from the COVID relief law that President Joe Biden signed last week, Commissioner Jennifer Ho told senators Monday. That's on top of $375 million from the previous stimulus package, money that hasn't been made available yet.

Ho told senators that she hopes to launch a call center and a website to take applications by the end of March. But she cautioned that Minnesota has never overseen a program of this size, and said other states have "stumbled" with their own rollouts.

"As much as my team knows how urgently this money is needed, I think we also know how well we need the system to work," Ho said.

The $375 million from the December 2020 stimulus is targeted toward renters whose annual income is less than 80 percent of the median income in their area. People must show financial hardship during the COVID-19 pandemic, such as a lost job.

Minnesota will give priority to renters who are behind on payments, Ho said. She estimated that as many as 100,000 Minnesota renters are behind and may owe as much as $200 million.

In most cases, the money will go straight to landlords.

The $200 million from the most recent COVID relief package will benefit homeowners who have fallen behind on their mortgages, as well as provide funding for homeless shelters and transitional housing.

Last year, the state struggled to get enough applicants for $100 million in housing assistance from the 2020 CARES Act, needing a last-minute push to bring in a surge of requests.

This time, Ho promised a "loud" public relations campaign. Her agency has contracted with an outside marketing firm, Ho said. A spokeswoman for the Housing Finance Agency did not immediately provide the contract.

The state will soon launch a "Get Ready" website to let people know what income documentation is required by the federal government, Ho said.