Bill aiming to expedite rental assistance applications advances in Minnesota Legislature


Hannah Saunders


Senate File 4704 received unanimous support from the Minnesota Senate Committee on Housing and Homelessness Prevention last month. The bill would increase funding for rental assistance and simplify the applicant information verification process. It also addresses the implementation of recommendations made by the Workgroup on Expediting Rental Assistance for the state’s family homelessness prevention and assistance program. 

“Every Minnesotan deserves a safe and stable home, yet every year tens of thousands of Minnesotans face a housing crisis that threatens their security,” said SF 4704 sponsor Sen. Lindsey Port (DFL-Burnsville).

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Port said rental assistance helps protect families and individuals from eviction, assists with stabilization, and ultimately allows Minnesotans to stay alive and thrive.

Minnesota passed legislation last year to develop the Workgroup on Expediting Rental Assistance to study and discuss ways to improve and expedite emergency rental assistance processes for residents experiencing a rental crisis.  The workgroup issued 14 recommendations. They found that providing timely emergency rental assistance will require changes to state law. A portion of the workgroup’s statement includes: 

“We believe the recommendations will greatly improve our collective ability to deliver emergency rental assistance on a timelier basis. Our recommendations include ways to reduce barriers and improve access for Minnesotans applying for emergency rental assistance; improve access through simplifying language and verification processes; proactively engaging rental assistance property owners and local administrators; and expanding what languages are available will help to pursue technology improvements to enhance the experience for applications and integrate emergency rental assistance programs and resources.”

The workgroup recommends that the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency should make a decision on an applicant’s application within two weeks of receiving one. It also recommended the issuance of payments within 30 days of receiving a completed rental assistance application. 

“Our recommendations were to increase funding to match the real-time assessment of needs; simplify language and improve timeframe flexibility; simplify verification processes to remove barriers for applicants; increase or start state funding for staff; (and) maximize the use of uniform electronic signature options,” Port said.

Additional workgroup recommendations include centralizing integrated technology systems, developing criteria and measuring conditions and timeliness of application processing, providing information in multiple languages that are not currently available, conducting outreach with rental property owners and community members, and consolidating a list of criteria for early interviews. 

Jean Lee, president and executive director of Children’s Hope International—a social work and adoption agency—testified in support of SF 4704 but would like to see certain components of the legislation altered, specifically for disadvantaged populations and homeowners.

“[In addition to] renters, you’re also considering the needs of homeowners and what we call the missing middle,” Lee said. 

Lee hopes the legislation will draw attention to the needs of additional populations, like seniors, people with disabilities, and military veterans.

“If they are ever homeless, it means an earlier death for them,” Lee said. “Their applications need to be elevated and expedited.”

Ranee Rock, a Tribal member of the White Earth Nation and a consultant at Statewide Health Improvement Partnership, experienced homelessness for years and currently lives in an affordable housing unit. 

“In my experience as a person using these programs, streamlining information (gathered) across the programs, and minimizing redundant paperwork will significantly reduce the stress of applicants like myself and staff.” 

— Rock 

Rock said clear communication of eligibility criteria and required documentation will help manage expectations around the distribution of emergency rental assistance, while reducing confusion. SF 4704 has been re-referred to the Senate’s Health and Human Services Committee. 

Readers interested in learning more about healthcare policy in Minnesota can register to attend the 2024 Minnesota State of Reform Health Policy Conference, which will be held at the Hyatt Regency Bloomington in Minneapolis on September 5. 

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