AFI Participant Rena Moran Goes From Homelessness to Minnesota State Representative

Photo of Representative Rena MoranIn 2000, Rena Moran and her children were homeless. In 2010, she was elected to the Minnesota House of Representatives and is now serving her second term. The transition from homelessness to elected office is a testament to her leadership, strength, commitment to community, and belief that ordinary people can make a real difference and to the power of the Assets for Independence program which promotes financial self-sufficiency.

After stays in shelters, Rep. Moran was able to find a job and move into a rental townhouse in St. Paul. Even then, she sought out ways to connect to her new community. She found that opportunity though a public policy class offered by the Community Action Partnership of Ramsey and Washington Counties. These classes sparked an ‘ah-ha’ moment when she realized how much policies affect all of us. She came to believe that we all can stand up for ourselves and play a role in our communities. As a person of action, Rep. Moran became a community organizer for Urban Embassy and worked to encourage individuals to pay attention to what is happening in the government at all levels, to register to vote, and to vote.

At the same time, Rep. Moran looked toward the future for ways to provide more stability for her family. Although she had a job and a place to live, her finances still remained a day-to-day struggle. This is when she became a participant in the Family Assets for Independence (FAIM) program (Minnesota’s State AFI program) through the Community Action Partnership of Ramsey and Washington Counties.

Rep. Moran says the program staff and other participants welcomed and supported her. The financial literacy classes she took as part of the program went at a pace that allowed everyone time to thoroughly learn the topics, which included strategies to budget, pay down debt, and correct errors on a credit report and increase credit scores. .

Rep. Moran was close to reaching her savings goal with FAIM when she learned about a program through Model Cities that refurbishes homes and resells them at affordable rates to qualified buyers. She found a home through this program that fit her needs and was able to use her savings and matched funds for a down payment. Rep. Moran said the day she closed on the home was a little nerve-wracking knowing the responsibility she was taking on, but she said her children were absolutely excited to move into a home that belonged to them and gave them a sense of permanency in the community.

In her new neighborhood, Rep. Moran quickly found more ways to connect with and support her community. Her new neighbors showed concern about the impact a new light-rail corridor could have on their community, including the possibility of tax increases. Rep. Moran became a key organizer with a campaign to work with the city to make sure the light-rail corridor did not negatively affect the community.

When her district’s state representative announced his retirement, Rep. Moran realized this was her time to step up and give her voice for her community. Rep. Moran was elected to the Minnesota State Legislature in 2010 and re-elected in 2012. As a Representative, Rena Moran gives others the tools to reach for the same successes she has had. She authored a bill to gain back $500,000 in Minnesota general funds—the non-federal cash match required by the AFI program—that was cut from the Minnesota FAIM program. The bill passed the Legislature in 2013 and was signed into law by Governor Dayton.

Rep. Moran believes communities can greatly help their residents by supporting programs—like Assets for Independence (AFI)—that stabilize families’ lives and develop a sense of connection to the community. She also knows the power that individuals and communities have when they recognize how policy affects them and become involved in the policy development process. Looking at the path that led Rep. Moran to where she is today, one sees that she is proof of the benefits of such programs and of the effects that one person can create when they engage themselves with the policies that affect their lives and communities.

“Each of us can make a difference. The voices of ordinary citizens must be brought to the halls of City Hall and the State Legislature,” Moran said.