EXPLAINER: Is Minnesota doing enough to limit evictions?
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A federal freeze on most evictions that was enacted last year is scheduled to expire July 31, after the Biden administration extended the date by a month. The moratorium, put in place by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in September, has been the only tool keeping millions of tenants in their homes. Many of them lost jobs during the coronavirus pandemic and have fallen months behind on their rent.
Landlords successfully challenged the order in court, arguing that they also had bills to pay. They pointed out that tenants could access more than $45 billion in federal money set aside to help pay rents and related expenses.
Advocates for tenants say the distribution of the money has been slow and that more time is needed to distribute it and repay landlords. Without an extension, they feared a spike in evictions and lawsuits seeking to boot out tenants who are behind on their rent.
As of June 7, roughly 3.2 million people in the U.S. said they would face eviction within the next two months, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey. The survey measures the social and economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic every two weeks through online responses from a representative sample of U.S. households.
Here’s the situation in Minnesota:
WHAT’S THE STATUS OF THE EVICTION MORATORIUM IN MINNESOTA?
Finding an “off ramp” for the state’s eviction moratorium was one of the priorities for the Legislature’s special session this month. Negotiators announced a bipartisan agreement June 14 that they said would offer strong protections and clear timelines for people who owe back rent to secure assistance, which is paid directly to landlords.
Landlords would be required to send notices to tenants who are behind on their rent 15 days prior to eviction. Tenants who have claimed but not yet received state rental assistance would be protected from eviction through June 1, 2022.
Walz has said he would sign whatever “off ramp” the state’s divided Legislature is able to pass.
WHAT’S BEING DONE TO HELP MINNESOTANS FACING EVICTION?
Minnesota is making $672 million in federal aid available through RentHelpMN.org to tenants in need, although landlords and tenant advocates say the program’s rules are too cumbersome and that the pace of payments has been too slow. To qualify, an applicant’s household income may not exceed 80% of the median income of an applicant’s home county. Applicants can ask for retroactive help back to March 13, 2020, and up to three months of future rent, for a total of 15 months’ worth.
According to the PolicyLink National Equity Atlas dashboard, 62,000 Minnesota households are behind on their rent — an average of $3,300 per household for a total of $207 million in total rent debt.
HOW ARE MINNESOTA COURTS HANDLING EVICTIONS?
The governor’s moratorium put most eviction lawsuits on hold. The Minnesota Multi Housing Association, which represents landlords who own about half of the state’s rental units, filed suit in federal court on June 14 to try to force an end to the moratorium, though the case may become moot if the off ramp legislation passes. The trade group argued that Walz’s moratorium, which was broader than the CDC’s, allowed for only “extreme exceptions” that had proven impossible to meet in practice, such as when a tenant endangers other tenants or causes serious property damage.
The association also said threats of prosecution by Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison had chilled landlords’ efforts to evict problem tenants in all but the most egregious circumstances. The group said Ellison brought at least four enforcement actions in just over a month after the moratorium was imposed and threatened several others.
WHAT IS THE AFFORDABILITY IN THE STATE’S MAJOR RENTAL MARKETS?
Minneapolis, St. Paul and some other Minnesota cities traditionally have tight rental housing markets, although vacancy rates have risen amid the pandemic and following the unrest over the killing of George Floyd last summer. As of May, the overall median monthly rent in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area had risen by 0.8% over the last year, to $1,468, according to a report released June 16 by Realtor.com. Median rents for a two-bedroom apartment rose by 4.9%, to $1,750.
Efforts are underway to put rent control measures on the November ballot in Minneapolis and St. Paul.
ARE EVICTIONS EXPECTED TO CREATE A SURGE IN HOMELESSNESS?
It’s hard to say how much homelessness might increase once evictions ramp up. State Rep. Michael Howard, a Democrat from Richfield who was one of the lead negotiators in crafting the off ramp plan, said it would provide some of the strongest protections for renters anywhere in the country. One indication of the scope of renter concern, however, is recent census data showing that 16,759 state residents were concerned they could be evicted within two months.