Bill would help rehabilitate foreclosed homes

This house, which used to stand at 715 Willow St., was foreclosed in March 2010 and forfeited by Wells Fargo Bank in September 2011, according to county records. Proposed legislation before the Minnesota House would provide $100 million for supportive housing, preservation and foreclosure recovery. (Daily News file photo)

Proposed legislation that would award $100 million to build and rehabilitate supportive housing, preserve and rehabilitate federally assisted affordable housing and stabilize communities impacted by the foreclosure crisis is being considered as part of the bonding bill in the Minnesota Legislature.

The Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless’s Homes for All alliance has presented a bonding bill for $100 million, HF 2031, that would help fund a range of housing, such as affordable housing for some of Minnesota’s poorest residents, including families with children, homeless youth, veterans, seniors and people with disabilities. The bill has been referred to the House Ways and Means Committee.

Local beneficiaries of the bill include Hope Center and Ruth’s House, two local non-profits that assist victims of domestic violence.

“Section 8 and low-income housing are often full, so there’s a big need for affordable housing,” said Hope Center Executive Director Erica Staab. “Although there are always safehouses available to meet short-term needs (3-5 days), long-term solutions are more difficult to come by. That’s just a Band-Aid for a much bigger problem.”

Staab said Hope Center has seen a 35 percent decrease in government funding since 2008, funding that hasn’t not yet been restored. She also said up to 80 percent of women and kids are homeless due to domestic violence.

Section 8, a federally-funded program with only 329 available slots in Rice County, has 400 people on the waiting list, which is no longer open, according to Rice County Housing and Redevelopment Authority Director Joy Watson. “With Section 8, there’s no time limit. As long as you’re income eligible, you can remain on it for as long as you need to be.” Watson also said none of the Section 8 housing assistance is funded by the state.

Ruth’s House provides safe, transitional housing for women and children, which is often the first step toward a new beginning, according to Ruth’s House Executive Director Ruth Hickey.

“It would be fantastic if we could get that bill passed,” said Hickey, citing a lack of affordable housing as the reason many families are homeless. “Without adequate housing, nothing else can happen. You can’t get a job, your kids can’t go to school,” she said.

Under the bill, funds would be passed on to the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency to serve as gap financing. It wouldn’t fund 100 percent of a project, but it would help leverage other funds. This is part of the reason it has such broad, bi-partisan support, across the state, according to Communications and Development Director for the Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless Kenza Hadj-Moussa.

“This bill would clear way for the MHFA to loosen up funds for housing development across the state,” said Hadj-Moussa. “The governor included $50 million for housing in his bonding proposal and the House and Senate approved the $100 million bonding proposal — just one piece in the entire bonding bill — but they still have to negotiate the size of the bonding bill.”

Rehabilitation of deteriorating buildings and foreclosed homes are another focus of the proposed legislation. From April 10, 2013, through April 10, 2014, there were 156 foreclosure sales in Rice County, mostly residential, although that also includes commercial properties and vacant land, according to Jane Stone, civil process clerk at the Rice County Sheriff’s Office.

The Faribault Housing and Redevelopment Authority would determine whether those funds would be available for housing in Faribault, according to Faribault Community Development Housing Coordinator Kim Clausen. “We would have to see what we’re eligible for and if we meet the requirements set forth by the state.”

Rep. Patti Fritz, DFL-Faribault, said it’s a great bill that would stabilize housing and attack the statewide homelessness problem.

“600,000 households pay more than 30 percent of their income for housing,” Fritz said. “It’s a lot of money that could do a lot of good.”

Reach reporter Camey Thibodeau at 333-3128. Follow her on Twitter.com @CameyThibodeau.

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