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How To Apply For Rental Assistance As COVID Eviction Protections Lift 

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- All remaining pandemic-era eviction protections expire Tuesday, except for renters who have pending assistance applications, and tenant advocates implore people who are still eligible to apply.

The eviction moratorium "off-ramp" passed by state lawmakers hits a key benchmark allowing for all lease terminations and evictions to resume. A required 15-day notice of an eviction filing for nonpayment of rent also expires.

But Tuesday does not mark the end for access to aid. There are still hundreds of millions of dollars available. Federal coronavirus relief packages sent more $673 million to the state for rental assistance, with $528 million earmarked for RentHelpMN run by the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency. It is accepting applications until June 1 of next year. You can apply online or by calling 211.

"[A submitted application] puts you in pending status and that gives you the protection that you need," said Jennifer Ho, commissioner of Minnesota Housing. "Things change a bit today, but the most important thing is if you're eligible, you should apply."

HOME Line, a nonprofit working on behalf of tenants, stressed the importance of showing up to a court hearing if an eviction is filed -- regardless of a pending application for help -- because "an eviction is almost certain to occur if the tenant does not show up to their hearing."

Weekly eviction filings have steadily increased since June when the off-ramp began, according to data tracked by Eviction Lab. There were 184 filings in the week ending Oct. 3.

Commissioner vows aid payments increasing after sluggish start 

Minnesota's system has drawn criticism from housing groups and individuals working with impacted residents who say the application process is cumbersome and slow, tying up much needed aid for both tenants and the landlords who need to pay their bills.

The latest information shows Minnesota Housing Finance Agency has processed more 26,000 payments totaling nearly $129 million. But that represents about half of the nearly 50,000 applications seeking $303 million in assistance, state data show.

Luke Grundman, managing attorney for the housing unit at Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid, said the process is "unnecessarily" complicated, especially for renters who don't have access to a computer. He added that eviction cases Legal Aid has handled in Hennepin County have increased three-fold since the off-ramp began, and that there is "very real possibility" that the greatest spike is yet to come.

"The money's available, we need to just cut out some of these obstacles and difficulties that are in the way of getting the money to the landlords so that families aren't made homeless right before winter," he said.

Grundman praised Minnesota Housing for some changes it made to make it easier to apply, like self-verification in lieu of submitting some documents. Still, he said, there should be more options like this for other information.

Ho said that the state agency continues to get new applications every day and is speeding up the process. State data show it paid $28 million since Oct. 4 alone -- that's more than 20% of the total payments.

She blamed the structure of the federal law and parameters put on the aid.

"I know folks wanted it to be fast, but I will say it wasn't, it wasn't conceptualized by the folks who gave us the money to be fast," she said. "It was designed to be accurate."
The National Low Incoming Housing Coalition ranks Minnesota 12th in the nation for distributing the housing relief.

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