Housing Advocates Recognized for 2023 Legislation

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Housing advocates (top l-r): Scott Cordes, Jewelean Jackson, Habitat for Humanity of Minnesota’s Cristin Incitti, Erin Mathern, LeAnn Littlewolf; (bottom l-r): Margaret Kaplan, Sedia Omar. Not pictured: Henry Banks.  [photographer Brian Muhs, MN Housing Partnership]

The accomplishment of $2 billion toward Minnesota housing during the 2023 legislative session was decades in the making. Minnesota Housing Partnership (MHP) celebrated by honoring key individuals who made it happen at a social event on December 7.  For more than 30 years, MHP has worked to expand housing and community development for those most impacted by economic and racial disparities by leading collaborative work to promote systems change and grow equitable capacity.

A big question in the coming years will be how to effectively spend those dollars to impact the most Minnesotans who need housing security, but this celebration recognized many of the individuals who made it happen through advocacy and legislative leadership.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz

Gov. Tim Walz opened with comments about the bipartisan and village effort that has gone into housing. “For the first time, we were talking billions with a B because we know the need is that great.We know this legislative session alone will not solve the problem. But I think the business community and advocates across the spectrum of housing are committed to getting this right. Now we need to get the dollars out the door. It’s a great accomplishment, but it’s still an on-paper accomplishment. We need to turn it into the real thing. I feel incredibly blessed to be in a state with so many people focusing their energies, their talents, and their resources to making sure everybody has a safe place to live.”


The 2023 Outstanding Advocate Awards

MHP executive director Anne Mavity offered opening comments

MHP director of policy Libby Murphy offered comments about why advocates and legislators in the room were recognized for their 2023 accomplishments.

  • Jewelean Jackson, elder community advocate, former board chair of Community-University Health Care Center, who built political will and shaped the housing conversation with testimony to legislators using her lived experience, policy-making presentations, and engaging community involvement
  • Margaret Kaplan, president, Housing Justice Center, who championed rural rental housing needs and statewide income protections; “to say she has been a forceful advocate is maybe too timid” a description
  • LeAnn Littlewolf, executive director, American Indian Community Housing Organization, a key influencer in north Minnesota whose leadership “has helped shape the narrative of home to community and culture”
  • Erin Mathern, attorney/shareholder, Winthrop & Weinstine, whose professional development and collaborative action for many years has “contributed to a strong and connected affordable housing system” who is always willing to say yes to being an event partner, mentoring, and supporting colleague’s goals
  • Sedia Omar, director of operations, New American Development Center, who used storytelling to shape the narrative and build support for affordable homeownership and the need for sustainable and predictable funding;” a strong organizer who brings lawmakers to community-centered events, building political will for solutions at the local, state, and federal levels”
  • Henry Banks, housing justice advocate recently elected to Duluth school board, “who has been committed to telling the story of our need for affordable homes for decades,” bringing together from his network connections between housing justice advocates, energy efficiency civil rights voices, and public school leaders.
  • Scott Cordes, chief financial officer and senior VP of operations, Project for Pride in Living, who used his experiences as an affordable housing developer to create collaborations between nonprofit and for-profit developers
  • Habitat for Humanity of Minnesota, organizational award, which provided key support, bringing key statewide perspective to policy and advocacy efforts “ensuring rural and Greater Minnesota as well as city and suburban expertise is reflected in policy conversations.”

Sen. Carla Nelson (in red) and Rep. Esther Agbaje greet each other as legislators were being recognized for housing leadership

Legislative Leaders

  • Rep. Esther Agbaje (D-Minneapolis) — recognized for promoting racial equity,  updating tenant landlord laws, and getting early emergency rental assistance. [She also led reproductive justice efforts in 2023, and spoke about that at our April 2023 event.]
  • Rep. Mike Howard (D-Richfield) — led efforts to invest in both housing for individuals as well as improvements to the housing system
  • Rep. Liish Kozlowski (D-Duluth) — promoted the narrative and vision that everyone has the right to a safe and healthy home, uplifting the voices of those who don’t always have access to the State Capital.
  • Rep. Jim Nash (R-Waconia) — worked to eliminate barriers to building more homes and housing security
    • Sen. Liz Bolden (D-Rochester) — a former nurse who authored several bills, including creation of the local housing trust fund state map to help incentivize local investments; “I’ve gotten 50 emails just this past week [indicating] how excited communities are.”
    • Sen. Zaynab Mohamed (D-Minneapolis) — promoted the vision that every Minnesotan belongs, uplifting systems solutions such as a constitutional amendment to housing as a basic right
    • Sen. Carla Nelson (R-Rochester) — a former teacher “who talks passionately about the role between housing and educational outcomes,” supported emergency rental assistance and the housing omnibus bill, and is ensuring rollout of the state tax credit “because she sees the connection between housing and everything else.”
    • Sen. Lindsey Port (D-Burnsville) — strong advocate for the big investment in housing, “including tireless, behind-the-scenes work to get her caucus to support the metro sales tax”


Other legislators who were honored but not in attendance for introductory comments:

  • Rep. Jeff Brand, Rep. Aisha Gomez, Rep. Andrew Myers
  • Sen. Karin Housley, Sen. Clare Oumuo Verbeten, Sen. Ann Rest

Minnesota Women’s Press plans a deep Changemakers Alliance series about “The Foundation of Housing,” including a February magazine theme about “No Place Like Home.” To support this series, please become a Badass member.