The opportunity before us
When families fall behind on housing payments in Minnesota, their best chance of staying safely and stably housed is to apply for emergency financial assistance from what we consider “safety net” programs – the longstanding public resources that function to resolve financial crises and preserve housing stability. In Minnesota, the “safety net” is a patchwork of different programs that can be difficult to navigate and do not guarantee timely support. This safety net is largely made up of the state-run Family Homelessness Prevention and Assistance Program (FHPAP) as well as county-run Emergency Assistance and Emergency General Assistance programs. Eligibility rules and approval processes vary widely across different programs and across jurisdictions, and are often confusing and time-consuming to navigate for a family in crisis. As a result, households unnecessarily fall behind on housing payments and risk eviction or displacement.
We believe a better system is possible. In recent years, COVID response programs adopted new approaches in deploying rent assistance funds in order to meet the urgent needs of the pandemic. Across the housing system, all of us – program administrators, supporting nonprofits, renters, landlords, policymakers, etc. – have collectively learned a great deal about what works and what can be improved in the delivery of emergency financial assistance. Now, there is a historic opportunity to apply these learnings to the permanent emergency financial assistance system and, together, create a stronger safety net that effectively preserves housing for families in crisis.
Family Housing Fund is leading a collaborative process to engage and convene housing partners, community-based organizations, public sector stakeholders, and people with lived experience of housing instability. Together, we can capture and leverage all that the housing sector has collectively learned from COVID assistance programs, co-create a unified vision for a better system, and begin working toward the necessary process and policy changes that will make that vision a reality.
This FHFund project complements the efforts of the Workgroup on Expediting Rental Assistance (WERA) – created in the 2023 Minnesota legislative session – which is tasked with developing recommendations and draft legislation for expediting emergency rental assistance. FHFund and several of our longstanding partners are members of the Workgroup, along with additional stakeholders representing Greater Minnesota. The rich community engagement of FHFund’s collaborative design process ran parallel to WERA, ensuring that a wide range of perspectives – including and especially the voices of individuals with lived expertise – have helped shape this work.
FHFund partnered with Imagine Deliver, a strategy consultant firm, to facilitate our collaborative design process. The process included:
- Phase 1: Community Engagement (Summer 2023): FHFund and Imagine Deliver engaged with community-based organizations, program administrators, public sector stakeholders, rental property owners, and individuals with lived experience through a series of interviews, listening sessions, and surveys. In October, we published a summary of what we heard and key insights (read it here), and we shared an overview of what we learned in a webinar. You can view the presentation slides here.
- Phase 2: Co-Design Sprint (Fall-Winter 2023): Building on learnings from the summer engagement, FHFund and Imagine Deliver hosted co-creative workshops in November 2023 to design a unified vision for a transformed system.
- February 2024: FHFund published a report summarizing the ideas generated through our co-design sprint, foundational themes, and recommendations for transforming emergency financial assistance.
Insights and recommendations
Aligning with others
We know we are not alone in our aspirations to transform the Twin Cities safety net, and we know that improving emergency financial assistance – while critical – is just one piece of the puzzle to achieving real housing security and prosperity for families. FHFund’s approach is building upon and intersecting with several other efforts, such as the Regional Kitchen Table, the newly formed State Workgroup, and the MN ERASE Campaign. Our project is intended to complement these efforts with a targeted focus on EA, EGA, and FHPAP – not to compete with or distract from others.
We believe FHFund’s “superpower” is to align distinct efforts, unify around a shared vision and action plan, and leverage our collective ideas for lasting change.
We hope you join us in the process. You can sign up to receive updates on this work here.