Alliance for Metropolitan Stability

Report date
October 2022

What has been most instrumental to your progress?

Cross-Sector Collaboration: Our work this year required collaboration between Minnesota Housing, the main agency charged with dispersing emergency rental assistance, and the network of community-based organizations working with BIPOC and low-wealth renters to ensure they could successfully apply for and receive rental assistance in a timely manner. The complexity of this process meant that there were many delays and frustrations for everyone involved. Community-based organizations played a critical role in reporting the needs and experiences of renters to MN Housing, reporting what difficulties were being experienced in the field, and ultimately getting much needed resources in the hands of renters. A major outcome of this collaboration is that MN Housing recognizes the value of community-based organizations and of investing in our ability to quickly, effectively, and authentically scale up communication and resource deployment to renters.
Capacity Building: This grant funded the Alliance’s support of Equity in Place, a diverse group of strategic partners from organizations led by people of color and housing advocacy organizations that believe that everyone in the Twin Cities region deserves to live where they want to live and have access to opportunity. One successful element of this work was a series of trainings we conducted for BIPOC-led community-based organizations that had not previously been active at the state level. We created peer learning spaces where BIPOC organizers could share their expertise with others in the field. This built up capacity for community organizing for equitable deployment of emergency rental assistance, which was valued by community members and MN Housing alike. The agency has continued to call on Equity in Place as a valued partner and met with us frequently throughout the year. We built power for community priorities through this process, but we also remained in good relationship and partnership with those working for equitable solutions within government.

Key lessons learned

There were many challenges with emergency rental assistance implementation, including a complex application platform, difficult documentation requirements, delayed payments to renters, and ultimately the program unexpectedly ran out of money. Despite these challenges, we still find hope and opportunity in what the federal and state government accomplished with emergency rental assistance since 2020. Over the past two years, we have made a once in a lifetime investment in low-wealth renters and we believe we have shifted many stakeholders’ beliefs about what’s possible during a crisis, but also what’s possible in the long term. Keeping people housed was an effective solution in the face of an economic and public health crisis, and our work now is to double down on that narrative and work for mental model shifts that can sustain this progress. We forged new partnerships, such as those with housing organizations based in Greater Minnesota, that can help us shift narratives statewide about the shared value of preventing displacement.
Despite the good work and resources deployed over the past year, the tide of evictions is increasing. Now that the moratorium has ended and emergency rental assistance is at least temporarily gone, we are starting to see the consequences of not having a long-term safety net in place. Although there is no long-term emergency rental assistance plan, many Equity in Place members were involved in concurrent campaigns in Minneapolis and Saint Paul to advance rent stabilization policies, which would be one way to prevent widespread displacement of low-wealth renters by keeping rents low. While this work was not funded through this grant, it is still a lesson that we have to be taking a broad view of what must be done to protect our communities. We also have to continue our work to build a public understanding that housing is healthcare, crafting durable and intersectional messages and analysis that keeping people housed is a public health strategy.

Reflections on inclusive, collaborative or resourceful problem-solving

Inclusivity was the most important element of the process. Equity in Place brought historically underrepresented people and communities into decision-making processes and ensured that they were listened to and respected as experts in their own experiences. At our November 2021 Equity in Place coalition retreat, we heard a strong belief that the coalition has done immensely valuable work in shifting narratives and shifting who are seen as experts in housing justice issues in the region. We have seen this echoed in the actions of MN Housing leadership who have repeatedly come back to us for input and feedback. The coalition has many years of experience working together, which have created a foundation of trust that is transformative rather than transactional. We are intentional in this practice, which has strengthened our ability to work as a team with shared values and commitment to inclusion. We are not vying for the spotlight as organizers, because we hold a common desire to center impacted communities in our work..

Other key elements of Community Innovation

Honesty: Equity in Place members have a commitment to speaking to the authentic experience of renters, who are the central partners necessary to design policies and systems that will work. We were willing to say what was and wasn’t working in the emergency rental assistance distribution process, but also to dig in with solutions that were grounded in authentic knowledge of community needs.

Reflection: Equity in Place regularly evaluates and adjusts our strategies in regular coalition meetings. We also conducted a 1.5-day retreat during the grant year to reflect on not only our strategies but also our ways of working together. This reflection time was essential after a frantic pace of work required over the past two years.

Understanding the problem

Priorities identified in our retreat included:

Internal priorities:
-Coalition work that focuses on infrastructure/agenda setting and narrative work
-Stronger protocols on how we are in relationship and how we interact, especially with newer participants at table and given distance from each other during the pandemic.
-More investment in the leadership and participation of newer individuals who have joined the table.
-Documenting EIP’s work, including our origin story.
-Healing practices/framework as part of our ongoing work.
-More capacity to do state-level work.
-Developing shared understanding of/implementation of anti-racist practices

External priorities:
-Continued relationship building with POCI caucus and the Governor’s office.
-Deploying a narrative that tells the history and impact of racialized capitalism, white supremacy, wealth robbery, and housing injustice to educate the general public, media, government systems, and key elected officials and staff of those systems.
-Setting expectations for engagement with external stakeholders and systems on our terms.

EIP also released a 2022 State Policy Agenda that outlined our policy and budget priorities.

If you could do it all over again...

Pace yourselves for the long haul. The uniqueness of the moment we were working in, the scale of the problems, and the opportunity to effect massive positive (and potentially long-term) change in a short time led to an unsustainable pace of work at times throughout the grant period. We see, however, that while that moment was a catalyst, the problems are long-term and our approach must be sustainable. In our communities, renters faced a housing crisis long before the COVID pandemic—but the public health emergency underscored that state leaders and policymakers have the power to safeguard the lives of renters when there is political will. Our challenge for the long-term is to build and sustain the political will and to build support for approaches to move toward lasting systems change that delivers justice and equity for renters and our communities.