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Minnesota officials urge renters to apply for aid, landlords lambast program rollout

After more than a year under an eviction moratorium, Minnesota property owners said they were eager for the system to start helping tenants pay missed rent.

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From left, Gov. Tim Walz, Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan and Minnesota Housing Commissioner Jennifer Ho listen to residents of Kings Crossing in St. Paul Thursday, Jan. 24, 2019, as they discuss their fear of losing federal housing assistance because of the month-long partial shutdown of the federal government. Christopher Magan / St. Paul Pioneer Press
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ST. PAUL — Minnesota officials on Friday, April 30, urged tenants with back-rent spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic to apply for federal support through renthelpmn.org .

Renters who've faced job losses, limited work or other hardships during the COVID-19 pandemic are eligible for up to 15 months of rent coverage through the program, with some of the funding available to cover future rent payments.

Months after Congress approved more than $375 million in emergency funding to help tenants in the state, Minnesota last week launched its application website.

And 10 days in, the state was working to process applications and approve payments, Housing Commissioner Jennifer Ho said, though it had yet to issue a rent check. More than 5,400 people had sought out information from a phone resource center affiliated with the program.

"This is an enormous amount of money, and so it's not a lottery. It's not going to be open last week and close next week," Ho said. "We're going to be running this program well into 2022."

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Property managers and landlords on Friday raised frustrations about the program's rollout. And they urged housing officials to work quickly to get money out the door. They also pressed officials to make more options available to tenants who had trouble using technology or facing language barriers.

Soon after the pandemic struck Minnesota, Gov. Tim Walz placed a moratorium on evictions to prevent Minnesotans from losing their housing due to financial issues and potentially contracting or spreading COVID-19. But in the months since, property managers have said they've faced significant losses in revenue and have been unable to evict tenants causing problems unrelated to rent payments.

Minnesota Multi-Housing Association President Cecil Smith said landlords had been waiting for the federal rent funds and the lag in getting dollars out the door furthered their financial struggles.

"Here we are today with the very rental assistance that we really need for those who haven't been able to pay rent for which we've been patiently waiting and it's really unclear how this is all going to work," Smith told reporters. "While they can say this is big, complicated and amazing, 10 days in we don't have a completed application, we don't even know the number of completed applications and we don't know when the checks are going to be ready."

Republicans that control the Senate and Democrats that lead the House of Representatives have put up different proposals to wind down the state's eviction moratorium with different timelines for the "off-ramp." They're set to negotiate on a proposal that can appease both bodies during the Legislature's last two weeks of the legislative session.

Walz on Friday told reporters that having an off-ramp in place would be imperative to his move to end the moratorium.

"We can't leave folks behind and we can't have a cascade of evictions," Walz said.

Follow Dana Ferguson on Twitter @bydanaferguson , call 651-290-0707 or email dferguson@forumcomm.com

Dana Ferguson is a Minnesota Capitol Correspondent for Forum News Service. Ferguson has covered state government and political stories since she joined the news service in 2018, reporting on the state's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the divided Statehouse and the 2020 election.
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