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A time of crisis: The county’s pandemic response

man standing outside apartment building

The COVID-19 pandemic created turmoil in everyone’s lives. Yet with recovery funding, Hennepin County was able to invest deeply in both homelessness response and affordable housing development, resulting in more people getting access to stable housing than might have otherwise.

The county received federal recovery funding to help brace residents for the economic and personal impacts of the pandemic. County housing programs received the largest portion of that funding. And because there was already a strong housing strategy and vision in place, we were able to leverage this one-time investment for the long-term.

ninety one million in pandemic recovery funds for housing and homelessness

Stage one: Facing the crisis

Homeless crisis response

During spring 2020, with the immediate health and safety of the homeless population in mind, the county transferred 1,137 people who were medically high-risk or older than 60 from congregate shelter to hotels. The county also focused on expanding and improving services at contracted emergency shelters in order to best serve residents during this critical time.

In the end, 464 people transitioned from hotels to permanent housing. Today, 96% of people who were housed through this program remain out of our homeless system.

In total, Hennepin County invested $45 million in shelters and supports services to swiftly move people out of homelessness to new opportunities. These investments include:

  • Supporting people to stay out of shelter, while still helping them to access housing
  • Capital funding to build and improve low barrier shelters and modern purpose-built shelters like Avivo Village and AICDC Homeward Bound
  • 24/7 operations at existing shelters
  • Housing-focused case management to help people in shelter and unsheltered settings move and find housing stability in permanent housing

Preventing eviction and foreclosure

Early in the pandemic, the county realized that renters would be among the hardest hit. Renters tend to have lower incomes, and service sector workers, who are overrepresented among renters, were now also temporarily out of work as the result of shutdowns.

In response, the county created brand new emergency rental assistance programming. We first used existing county and Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA) funds in March 2020, then funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act from April through December of 2020, then finally Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) from 2021 through today.

From March 2020 through July 2023, we provided $74 million of rent and utility assistance to nearly 10,000 renter households.

In addition, we launched a homeowner assistance program in fall 2021 before the final mortgage forbearance protections expired. With that program, we provided $1.8 million to 146 homeowners to prevent foreclosure and other financial crises.

Housing recovery

As the pandemic response moved from crisis response to recovery, the county shifted its strategy toward investments in growing availability of affordable housing.

In August 2021, the board allocated $46 million toward equitable housing recovery. This investment aimed to support the acceleration of affordable housing production, especially with developers of color or areas impacted by civil unrest. It also went toward preserving affordable private housing options, supporting projects delayed by construction cost increases, acquiring and rehabbing properties to convert to Single Room Occupancy (SRO) housing, and developing new homeownership opportunities to reduce disparities.

Overall, these funds are intended to leverage this moment to build up a more resilient housing infrastructure.

Stage two: moving beyond the pandemic

Housing recovery

By Fall 2023, only two years since the housing recovery funds were allocated, the county has executed funding agreements for 21 affordable housing projects, totaling over $25 million, which will create or preserve 2,072 units of affordable housing. The signed agreements total over $25 million in pandemic recovery funding. This work was in addition to continuing investments from existing county and HRA housing finance budgets, allowing the county to double its rate of affordable housing production in 2022 and 2023.

In addition, by the end of 2023, the county will have created three single-room occupancy projects totaling almost 115 units. These projects fill a gap in our housing continuum for people with extremely low incomes, and they also demonstrate a model that allows us to open faster and at lower cost. Two additional projects are still in production. Through these investments and more, we are ensuring that the pandemic-era investments made by Hennepin County will have a long-term, lasting impact.


The county’s housing stability team will continue to build on the investments that began during the pandemic, expanding our services to help as many people as possible maintain housing stability.

That work includes capital improvements at emergency shelters, helping to provide 24/7 shelter options, supporting new low-barrier shelters such as Avivo Village and AICDC Homeward Bound, and continuing to partner with Harbor Light Center to avoid having to re-implement a fee for stay.

Through the pandemic response, the County was were able to launch three new flagship programs:

  • Homeless to Housing: Housing-focused case management services
  • Hennepin Shelter Hotline: System-wide shelter diversion
  • Streets to Housing: A housing-focused response to unsheltered homelessness

These three programs have already made a deep impact in both the way we work and our ability to better reach those in need. Over the next few months, Homeless to Housing will onboard a new team—one supervisor and 11 social workers—who will work directly with families in the Hennepin County shelter system. Our teams will continue to strengthen the Hennepin Shelter Hotline with new teammates and improved data collection, fielding calls from residents across the county who need help navigating the housing and emergency shelter system. The Streets to Housing team will continue to meet people where they are at and provide housing focused services to house people directly from the streets.

2020 snapshot: Housing pandemic response