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.
This summer and fall, 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 will complement the efforts of a new State Workgroup – 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 were named in the legislation as members of the Workgroup, as well as other stakeholders representing Greater Minnesota. The rich community engagement of FHFund’s collaborative design process will feed into the legislative Workgroup, ensuring that a wide range of perspectives – including and especially the voices of individuals with lived expertise – are shaping that work. (Read the text of the legislation here.)
FHFund is partnering with Imagine Deliver, a strategy consultant firm, to facilitate our collaborative design process. Here’s our plan for the next several months:
- Summer: FHFund and Imagine Deliver will engage 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. The insights gleaned will lay the groundwork for the next co-design phase.
- Fall: Building on learnings from the summer engagement, FHFund and Imagine Deliver will host co-creative workshops to design a unified vision for a transformed system.
- December: Our work will produce a report of specific, actionable recommendations for improving access to emergency financial assistance. This report will help define the work of FHFund and our collaborators going forward. Importantly, it will also inform the legislative Workgroup as it develops its own recommendations for legislation, which are to be delivered to the Minnesota legislature by February 2024.
- 2024 and beyond: We will work with the housing community to support adoption of our co-design recommendations. Utilizing our unique role as a supporting organization of government, we also plan to continue partnering with local jurisdictions in the implementation of anticipated changes.
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.
What do you think?
There will be several opportunities to add your voice to this work. The first and simplest is to fill out the survey below! What has been your experience with emergency financial assistance programs?