Fewer than two weeks ahead of the formal end of Minnesota’s eviction moratorium, the state’s program administering rental assistance is hastening its distribution of money following a slower start.

RentHelpMN has distributed nearly $30 million in the last week, though nearly $180 million in requested help remains pending.

Although the state’s online dashboard doesn’t include data about money distributed in each county, it shows that as of Sept. 23 nearly $6.5 million had been requested in 1,432 applications among the nine south-central Minnesota counties.

Blue Earth, Nicollet, Le Sueur and Martin counties each recorded more than 100 applications for assistance in the latest data update a week ago. More than 650 renters in Blue Earth County have requested a collective $2.9 million, while 193 people have requested nearly $900,000 in Nicollet County.

RentHelpMN, a program run by Minnesota Housing, has paid more than $87.5 million of $518 million available to people in need around the state. Money goes directly to landlords unless tenants apply on their own and the property owner refuses to participate.

Minnesota Housing Commissioner Jennifer Ho, who leads the program, is providing a media update today to discuss its progress.

Judd Schultz, housing services director at Minnesota Valley Action Council, said despite his qualms with months of waiting for the state program to process applications and send money, applying to RentHelpMN is a struggling tenant’s best option.

Come Oct. 12, the eviction moratorium is over and all financial protections for renters are lifted. But if tenants are eligible for and apply to the state’s aid program, they are protected from eviction until a decision is reached regarding their request.

“If a landlord wants to evict you purely for nonpayment of rent, and you apply for the Rent Help Minnesota assistance, and your application is basically sitting there waiting to be processed, you actually are protected from eviction all the way through June of next year,” Schultz said, referencing the June 2022 deadline by which the state intends to process all applications.

Tenants have until the end of December to apply for the rental aid program. Landlords can share contact information of tenants and thereby create a RentHelpMN account, but tenants must follow a link they’re sent and provide additional information to submit an application.

Up to 15 months of rent assistance is available, and the program doesn’t require any form of repayment for the money.

Tom Johnson, who works for large local property manager Lloyd Management, said the amount of time his company has spent actively seeking and collecting rent payments has risen from pre-pandemic levels.

Tenants in properties marked as affordable housing, such as Cherry Ridge Apartments and Sibley Park Apartments in Mankato, have especially struggled to pay, he said.

One of every 10 renters staying in the Sibley Park Apartments has requested help from the RentHelpMN program, Johnson said last week.

“The numbers are a little higher than normal. I think what’s most troubling are not so much the number of people behind but the number of months they’re behind,” he said.

Prior to the moratorium, Lloyd Management wouldn’t allow tenants to fall more than one month behind. The company is accustomed to tenants paying a couple of weeks late, he said, “but not somebody being three months behind. That would never happen without the moratorium.

“Our hope is these folks that are three, four months behind, all that will be paid by RentHelp once their application is approved.”

Blue Earth County has the highest number of applications per thousand renters earning less than $35,000, at 135. The state uses the metric to measure the varying levels of need in each county; Hennepin County’s situation in the metro area is worse, with 200 applications per thousand tenants falling below the income threshold.

Le Sueur County recorded 132 for the same figure, while Nicollet recorded 125.

Two-thirds of people in Minnesota to apply for rental assistance have identified themselves as Black, Indigenous or people of color. Nearly two-fifths say they have experienced recent unemployment.

Blue Earth County tracks with the state on the latter metric, with 37% of respondents saying they have been recently unemployed. Half of the applicants identified themselves as Black, Indigenous or people of color.

Nicollet County’s statistics on this front roughly match Blue Earth’s. In Martin and Le Sueur counties, however, about three-quarters of the applicants did not identify as Black, Indigenous or people of color.

For the nine-county region at large, 51% of households to apply for money have children younger than 18. More than two-fifths of applicants make less than 30% of the area’s median household income.

Following is the number of applications submitted in each county as well as the total amount of aid requested:

Blue Earth: 652 applications for $2,914,600

Nicollet: 193 applications for $885,200

Le Sueur: 131 applications for $715,400

Martin: 132 applications for $618,600

Brown: 98 applications for $348,700

Waseca: 89 applications for $331,900

Sibley: 56 applications for $261,500

Faribault: 48 applications for $222,500

Watonwan: 33 applications for $150,300

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