Minnesota could amend disability housing law

Zach Johnson gives lively and humorous testimony before the House Housing Finance and Policy Committee March 5 in support of a bill sponsored by Rep. Raymond Dehn, right, that would modify home- and community-based waiver and general assistance recipients’ residency ration restrictions. (Photo by Andrew VonBank)

A “kumbaya” moment during a House committee ended with the approval of a bill intended to expand choice in disability housing.

“We have a real feeling of kumbaya here in the committee today,” Rep. Paul Anderson (R-Starbuck) said at the end of the hearing.

Under current law, a multi-family building with more than four units can serve individuals with home and community-based waivers in no more than the greater of four or 25 percent of the units. Rep. Raymond Dehn (DFL-Mpls) sponsors HF1992 that would amend the law to allow exceptions and allow multi-family buildings of four or fewer units to serve individuals receiving such waivers in all of the units.

The House Housing Finance and Policy Committee approved the bill Wednesday and moved it to the House Health and Human Services Policy Committee. A companion, SF1692, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Hayden (DFL-Mpls), awaits action by the Senate Health, Human Services and Housing Committee.

The intent of the original law was to prevent the building of “places that might look like residences or regular apartments, but [are] really just institutions in another name,” said Sean Burke from the Disability Law Center at Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid.

Developers interested in a multi-family building that exceeds the 25 percent cap or caters to an individual’s diagnosis can participate in an application process that includes public input into the project. The bill also would provide a way for the revocation of an exemption and would require the Department of Human Services to create a stakeholder group to further develop the exemption process.

A resident of a building that provides 24-hour personal care attendant service shared his reasons for choosing such a residence.

Zachary Johnson said his residence allowed him to earn his college degree from the University of Minnesota and will allow him to obtain his first job. “What this allows me to do is exercise my full potential to get that first job that can lift me out of poverty, which will allow me to go to other options if I choose.”

Johnson’s testimony had an effect on multiple representatives. “I really think you just gave one of the most compelling testimonies I’ve heard since I’ve been here,” said Rep. Jason Metsa (DFL-Virginia).

Rep. Marion O ’Neill (R-Buffalo) agreed and expressed her support of the bill along with other representatives, including Rep. Joe Schomacker (R-Luverne) and Rep. Jerry Hertaus (R-Greenfield).

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    Andrea Parrott's picture
    Andrea Parrott

    Andrea Parrott is a freelance writer from the 'burbs. (Twitter: @andrea_parrott)