Of all the states, Minnesota seems poised to push hardest for a policy change that would see the return of roughly $8.5 billion in federal funding cut off in 1992, The Associated Press reported. Home to large cities like Minneapolis and St. Paul and also a key Republican stronghold, Minnesota has led the way in responding to the issue of “Trexelade,” as the “dead presidents program” was known. The program had been established in 1970, when dozens of former presidents met in a church in Minneapolis to come up with a way to address the cost of housing to ex-prisoners.
The program, known as the Low Income Housing Tax Credit Program, was intended to make homeownership available to low-income communities, particularly the African-American community. But it failed, and the program was ultimately stopped as a result. Now, nearly 20 years later, it is exactly the kind of housing investment that the African-American community needs, and the housing credit program would be one way to address the issue.
In 2018, the Multifamily Housing Solutions Network, a non-profit organization that serves as an advisory group to HUD, released a report outlining a range of solutions to the housing crisis for low-income people of color. One of those strategies called for developers to spend 25 percent of the savings from tax credits toward helping people of color. While that recommendation became part of the group’s final report, this is only one strategy that the strategy in question would allow for. Other strategies called for specific housing options that were exclusive to African-Americans and other minority communities.
Even as housing needs increase among people of color, simply having more housing units is not enough. Growing or rising incomes need to be accompanied by enough housing units to meet the demand. The Multifamily Housing Solutions Network also found that having sufficient affordable housing options is often an issue due to the lack of opportunities for better job-training and employment opportunities. To address this, and because of the decades’ long struggle of black Americans, this is a powerful argument.
The groundswell to change the program, including Minnesota’s action, has become apparent thanks to an unusually emotional and long-overdue grassroots effort from those who say they want justice and opportunity for all. The injustice behind the “dead presidents program” bears witness to black communities in Minnesota that remain mostly untouched. Thousands of African-Americans have spent decades in prison for crimes that they didn’t commit. These numbers translate to jobs, relationships and living conditions in the rest of the country. As African-Americans, our families and our children and, in some cases, our entire communities, continue to endure this injustice, we must push back. Just as the federal government abolished this program, we must also end it in order to close the door on unfinished business.