ST. PAUL — Lawmakers weighing an offramp for Minnesota's eviction moratorium on Wednesday, May 26, said they would have a difficult path striking a compromise ahead of a May 28 deadline to submit their work.

Members of an unofficial housing working group on Wednesday heard from tenants, landlords, attorneys and advocates about the best path for unraveling the executive order that has been in effect for more than a year.

During a virtual meeting, lawmakers said the Legislature needed to enact a transition step to unwind the moratorium. But they said strong disagreements remained between Republicans and Democrats aiming to negotiate a proposal.

"We've got to pick up the pace," Sen. Rich Draheim, R-Madison Lake, said. "We're not going to make the deadline."

Minnesota Sen. Rich Draheim, R-Madison Lake, on Monday, April 12, 2021, spoke to members of the Senate about his plan to gradually end the state's eviction moratorium. (Forum News Service file phto_
Minnesota Sen. Rich Draheim, R-Madison Lake, on Monday, April 12, 2021, spoke to members of the Senate about his plan to gradually end the state's eviction moratorium. (Forum News Service file phto_

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Gov. Tim Walz last spring ordered a temporary ban on evictions in an effort to keep Minnesotans safely housed during the pandemic. But with new COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths declining and vaccinations ramping upward, Republican lawmakers have said the order, along with Walz's executive powers, should end.

In the Senate, GOP lawmakers put forward a phased plan to allow for certain evictions over time. They said the proposal would let landlords quickly deal with troublesome tenants without bogging down the courts.

Democrats at the Capitol have agreed that the state should pursue an "offramp" to transition away from the moratorium but have sought a longer timeframe for the transition, options for expunging improper eviction records and additional notice requirements for tenants and landlords than GOP legislators have put forward.

"What I think you want, whether you're a landlord or a renter, is for the Legislature to compromise and that is what we should strive to do," Rep. Michael Howard, D-Richfield, said. "There's a win-win out there and there's a resolution that's possible if both sides come to the table."

MORE ON THE EVICTION MORATORIUM:

Tenants, renter advocates and groups working to end homelessness said the offramp should provide enough time to ensure eligible renters can apply for assistance and seek out viable employment and child care. And they urged lawmakers to make sure that tenants and landlords received significant notice about when the moratorium and offramp period would end.

Landlords, meanwhile, said they'd faced significant burdens during the moratorium in dealing with tenants who skipped rent even though they could afford it or created safety hazards in their buildings. Several also raised concerns about the slow rollout of the state's RentHelpMN program and their struggles attempting to help tenants apply for financial support.

“This system is a nightmare to navigate," Lisa Marvin of Essence Property Management said. "It freezes, we get no calls from 211, we get no emails back."

Minnesota received $672 million from the federal government to help renters pay overdue rent as well as three months of rent into the future if they've faced employment issues and financial hardship due to the pandemic. But the state's support system has lagged in getting funding out the door due to steep hurdles from the federal Department of Treasury and the complicated process of confirming applications, Minnesota Housing Commissioner Jennifer Ho said.

Minnesota Housing Finance Commissioner Jennifer Ho
Minnesota Housing Finance Commissioner Jennifer Ho

Ho told the panel that $1 million in assistance had been paid out as of this week, but many more applications were under consideration.

“What I need is time,” Ho said. “I know that renters and owners are both hurting but the reality is that I got a very large program that came with some rules and it’s going to take us a little while while we work through the backlog.”

Ho urged patience from those applying, as well as from those tracking the program's progress. And she urged lawmakers not to end the eviction moratorium before renters had a chance to apply for aid. Tenants that don't live at the residence for which they're seeking rent support wouldn't be eligible for the federal funds, she said.

So if a person was evicted, they'd still be on the hook for late rent, but wouldn't be able to seek aid.

“I consider that a lose-lose situation," Ho said. "A win-win situation is if we have time to be able to help the renter pay their bill and the owner pay their bill."

The panel is one of just over a dozen meeting in the weeks between the May 17 end of the 2021 legislative session and an expected June 14 start of a special legislative session. And it was one of just two groups set to hold a public meeting this week.

Lawmakers are weighing more than $52 billion in state spending as part of the next two-year budget. But much of the debate over how the money get spent has transpired in secret.

Follow Dana Ferguson on Twitter @bydanaferguson, call 651-290-0707 or email dferguson@forumcomm.com