African refugees in Minnesota just received a financial boost, now that they have two of their own members on the Minneapolis public housing board.
Thanks to the federal refugee resettlement program, Minneapolis is home to the largest Somali population in the United States. But it is a financial hardship for them when they want to return to their homelands to visit family, or when they must make their required pilgrimage to Mecca that all Muslims are expected to do at least once.
Now they will no longer be required to pay their normal monthly rent when they travel out of the country.
Many resettled refugees live in public housing (supplemented by U.S. tax-payers), and they also receive federal Supplemental Security Income. However, when they travel outside the U.S., the income stops, but they’ve had to continue paying their public housing rent, which is income-based.
Now, all they have to do is apply for “hardship status”, which requires them to only pay a minimal $75 monthly rent during the time they’re out of the country, up to 90 days. This was allowed in the past, but they had to make up the difference in the rent over the next year or two.
Mary Boler, agency manager for the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority, said the paperwork burden of tracking the repayments was “higher than anticipated.”
“This was brought up to us again and again and again in every building we visited in our ward,” city council member Abdi Warsame said. “Everybody was afraid to leave the country.”
The Star Tribune reported that the agency board now has two members of Somali descent, Mohamud Tamir and Abdullahi Isse. The agency’s resident advisory board also backed the change in rent policy for extended absences.
Warsame said the previous policy in place created a particular hardship in elderly East Africans who had to save for long periods of time if they wanted to go back and visit their homelands.
The new policy is expected to be effective by the end of the year, once it is approved by federal housing officials.
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