In September, the Metropolitan Council approved changes to its policies related to the federal housing voucher program. Among the changes are:
Charging a minimum rent of $50 per month, unless a hardship is demonstrated.
Inspecting qualifying properties every other year instead of annually.
Creating opportunities to help families move from supportive housing to independent living, freeing up vouchers for people who are homeless or on the verge of homelessness.
Terri Smith, director of the Council’s housing and redevelopment authority (Metro HRA), told Council members that charging a minimum rent is one step towards addressing a Metro HRA operating deficit. In addition, the change will prevent the agency from having to further reduce the number of households it serves.
Metro HRA engaged its Resident Advisory Board and held meetings in three different parts of the region to get feedback on the proposed changes. The HRA also consulted with a focus group of landlords.
The minimum rent will affect about 270, or 4%, of Metro HRA’s current voucher holders. These households will have the opportunity to get the minimum charge waived if they can demonstrate a hardship.
Seven of the other nine housing authorities in the seven-county metro area charge a minimum rent. Nationally, nearly 9 out of 10 housing agencies do so. The charge is expected to generate about $160,000 annually.
Pilot program for biennial inspections expanded and made permanent
Metro HRA started a pilot program in 2015 to test the impacts of inspecting assisted rental properties every other year instead of every year. The pilot has grown to about 500 units on properties with five or more units. The Council-approved change will expand the program to all qualifying assisted rental properties, including single-family homes.
Properties will have to meet certain criteria to qualify, and continue to qualify, for biennial inspections, explained Jennifer Keogh, Metro HRA manager. Staff estimates the policy will result in 3,000 fewer inspections each year, reducing administrative costs.
The pilot program has allowed inspectors time to build relationships with onsite staff and educate both owners and tenants about how to keep units compliant with federal regulations. Metro HRA staff will continue to collect and analyze data to track results of this change. Residents will continue to have the opportunity to request complaint inspections between regular inspections.
Vouchers set aside for people in supportive housing to move to independent living
With the third significant policy change approved by the Council, Metro HRA will set aside 40 vouchers per year to allow people who occupy permanent supportive housing units to move to independent living when they are ready. This new waiting list preference will ultimately create more opportunities for people who are homeless or about-to-be homeless to move into supportive housing, freeing up those units by moving people out who are ready.
Metro HRA provides housing assistance to more than 7,200 households throughout Anoka, Carver, and suburban Hennepin and Ramsey counties, and is the largest administrator of the federal Housing Choice Voucher program in Minnesota. Metro HRA earned the highest ranking from HUD for its program administration in 2018, its 15th consecutive year earning that ranking.
Metro HRA rental assistance