At the 2023 Minnesota State of Reform Health Policy Conference, leaders met to discuss how the state is using funding dedicated to addressing the housing crisis and homelessness.
Blair Harrison, senior policy director for population health and social care at UnitedHealthcare Community and State, noted how much the state’s housing landscape has changed in the last few years.
Harrison is interested in seeing how states are creating new flexibilities to use federal funds under the 1115 waiver demonstration to specifically meet the needs of individuals who are experiencing housing and food insecurity.
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Wendy Underwood, chief advancement and public engagement officer for Catholic Charities Twin Cities, noted the increase in awareness around how housing is directly related to health and well-being.
“The pandemic, among its many things, brought a whole lot of awareness to these needs and to this work, and really helped remove some stigmas and some choices to not understand [how housing affects health] because so many people experienced for the first time how their home was their healthcare—our homes kept us alive, they kept us safe,” Underwood said.
Underwood highlighted how the Minnesota Legislature has traditionally allocated approximately $10 million to housing initiatives, but that last year saw incredible improvements with the legislature passing a $1 billion housing bill. Underwood said this increase in funding shows that lawmakers are prioritizing housing across all sectors of the state. What’s needed going forward is additional education and awareness around health and housing, she said.
Andrea Brennan, president and chief executive officer of the Greater Minnesota Housing Fund, said a large portion of revenues for affordable housing developments come from property taxes.
“There’s only so much a city government can do,” Brennan said. “You can’t property tax your way out of a housing affordability problem.”
“It’s housing that’s affordable to lower income folks, but not necessarily people who are coming out of, or at significant risk of homelessness, so we’re financing the development of housing … and then we’re going to try to track health outcomes as a part of that,” Brennan said.
Brennan added how this is a new initiative for the organization and believes much of the data they obtain will come from surveying residents. Looking forward, Brennan said she is excited to be “adding to the narrative” and thinking more holistically about how different systems are intertwined.