“Go big so everyone can go home” is the bold, newly adopted motto of the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency.

Last month, the agency tethered its new motto with the old idiom “Put your money where your mouth is” with the announcement of this year’s $254 million housing investment.

This money, awarded through a super request-for-proposal process that combines funds from Minnesota Housing, Greater Minnesota Housing Fund and the Metropolitan Council, will be used to create and preserve more than 2,665 low-income affordable rental and owner-occupied housing units throughout the state. This investment of state and federal dollars will leverage $572 million in private and local funding for affordable housing in Minnesota.

The agency’s “go big” motto isn’t just a catchy phrase to draw attention, it’s also a clarion call to action. The state is faced with some daunting statistics:

• An additional 300,000 housing units, both rental and owner-occupied homes in all income levels, are needed over the next 10 years to keep pace with growth.

• Preserving the state’s current low-income affordable housing inventory is a costly and ongoing battle.   

• Minnesota is the fourth highest state in homeownership disparity for households of color and indigenous communities in the nation.

This is not a time to deny the numbers or to look for someone to blame. This is the time to build on the progress of the past, move on new initiatives, and open paths to opportunities.

Over the past eight years, with strong support from state lawmakers, the total annual investment in affordable housing in Minnesota increased from about $700 million to $1.3 billion, loans to first-time homebuyers of color and from indigenous communities went from 549 to 1,400, and financing of new rental housing went from about 700 to 1,100 units.

The projects chosen in the 2019 housing fund award will continue these numbers on an upward path. Also, the selections were made with an eye on reducing the homeownership disparity.

All of the 2019 affordable housing projects primarily serve people of color and indigenous communities since these populations are disproportionately represented in low-income households, but special emphasis was put on funding projects that make homeownership more accessible.

While financing more affordable single-family homes is important to reducing the disparity in Minnesota, serious systematic reform is vital. Systemic barriers to homeownership (such as racial covenants and redlining) are identified as part of our state’s history. These need to be dismantled and assistance provided to those who were negatively affected.

Help in this endeavor is provided in Minnesota Housing’s 2019 award through down payment assistance, financing first-time homebuyer mortgages, and credit and homeownership counseling.

Homeownership is a significant element of gaining the ground lost to past wrongs. Generations without homeownership have little to no wealth to pass on to future generations. Homeownership is the primary way that families build wealth. There is also a demonstrated value of community building when homeownership is addressed.

Minnesota Housing’s latest “go big” efforts also positively impact the state’s economy with 5,025 jobs generated by the 74 construction projects that received financing through the super request-for-proposal process.

Any way we look at it, Minnesota Housing’s efforts to “go big” are a very good thing for the state and its residents. The agency’s latest affordable housing awards successfully address the most pressing need of many Minnesotans: To live and thrive in a stable, safe home they can afford in a community of their choice.

A hearty, fist-pump “Boom!” is Minnesota Housing Commissioner Jennifer Ho’s favorite, oft-used expression of approval. We send the same back to her and her staff.

An opinion of the Adams Publishing – ECM Editorial Board. The Forest Lake Times is an APG-ECM newspaper.

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