Local governments partnering to house homeless families

A new local government program will help over 300 Minneapolis Public Schools families find and pay for housing over the next three years.

The Stable Homes, Stable Schools program will provide rental assistance for up to 21 families in each of the 15 MPS schools that face the highest levels of homelessness. The program will also provide funding to families who are housed but face housing instability or eviction.

The City of Minneapolis is planning to spend $10 million on the program over the next three years, or about $3.35 million a year. The Pohlad Family Foundation has committed $500,000 to help families who are housed but face instability or eviction. Other funding comes from the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority and in-kind services from Hennepin County.

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said he felt strongly that the city needed to step up in the face of statistics showing that 8.5 percent of the city’s school-aged population is experiencing homelessness. He said that stable housing has the highest correlation to success in education.

“You need that foundation from which to rise,” Frey said. “This helps provide the necessary stability.”

According to MPS, over 5,800 children and youth experienced homeless in Minneapolis during the 2016-17 school year, including 3,586 enrolled in the district. Homelessness in the district’s report is defined by the federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, which considers kids homeless if they lack a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence.

A City of Minneapolis fact sheet says that research shows that students who have experienced homelessness are less likely to graduate high school and less likely to attend secondary-level education programs.

The Stable Homes, Stable Schools program will support as many as 648 students, or 20 percent of all MPS students experiencing homelessness, according to the fact sheet. The Minneapolis Public Housing Authority will administer the program.

Kyle Hanson, the authority’s director of housing-choice voucher/Section 8 programs, said the Stable Homes, Stable Schools program is unique in that the city is investing in a direct subsidy for housing. Most of the time, a city’s involvement comes in the form of tax credits or encouraging companies to build housing, he said.

The subsidies will cover the remainder or a family’s rent after it spends 30 percent of its income on housing, Hanson said. He said the goal is to house people within the busing zone of their children’s schools.

Hanson said it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find rental housing, noting that the vacancy rate for people with low incomes is below 3 percent. He also noted that property owners are not required to accept housing vouchers and that people who are in poverty are increasingly having to go outside of Minneapolis to find affordable housing.

The Housing Authority is hoping that the Stable Homes, Stable Schools funding will be available in February and that it will be serving families by the spring, Hanson said. He added that the authority won’t be able to help out all 320 families at once but will rather work toward that number.

He said the program could show others the power of local government collaboration.

“We’re really showing that four big governmental agencies can come together in an innovative way to serve families different than we had before,” Hanson said. “I’m really hopeful that this is going to be a model for other things in the future.”