Minneapolis council to consider move to establish rent control

Minneapolis council member Cam Gordon
Minneapolis City Council member Cam Gordon, pictured here at a 2015 news conference outside City Hall, is one of three council members who support the process to put a rent stabilization measure before voters.
Jennifer Simonson | MPR News 2015

Whether it’s called rent stabilization or rent control, the measure is designed to set limits on the rates at which housing costs can grow. The Minneapolis City Council is expected to start the process Friday toward regulating rent increases.

Supporters, like housing organizer Qannani Omar, say rent control is an important part of a larger strategy to keep people in their homes.

“We’re seeing residents who have dealt with 15 percent rent increases,” she said. “We are seeing residents deal with rent increases in this pandemic, kind of forcing them out of their units.”

Omar helps low-income residents in the Harrison neighborhood find affordable housing options or emergency assistance. Around 70 percent of Harrison residents rent their homes and a majority of them pay as much as 50 percent of their income on housing.

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“That’s just not sustainable,” she said.

City leaders and residents will get an opportunity to learn more about a policy, which is in place in fewer than 200 U.S. cities. Researchers have studied how ordinances affected rents in San Francisco, Calif., and Cambridge, Mass., in particular.

“I think any fair reading of the research in this area would have to come to the conclusion that evidence is mixed,” said Ryan Allen, director of the urban and regional planning program at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs.

The research consistently shows that the policies appear to keep housing prices affordable in rent-controlled buildings. However, Allen said some studies show units not included in rent stabilization appreciate at faster rates. That’s because the policies often don’t extend to new housing construction.

Allen said studies also looked at whether housing availability declined because landlords converted their units to condominiums apparently in reaction to the imposition of rent stabilization.

“There again, the evidence is mixed,” he said. “There’s some evidence that that happens. In San Francisco, in particular, there’s research that indicates that was an outcome that occurred with their rent control ordinance.”

Allen said a study found that condo conversions increased in Cambridge, after the Boston suburb eliminated its rent control ordinance.

But stabilization of rent may bring stable households and neighborhoods, Allen said. “And we know from other research that can lead to other positive outcomes, particularly for kids.”

Minneapolis City Council member Cam Gordon is one of three council members who initiated the process of pursuing a rent control policy.  He said there are many good reasons to adopt it.

“A lot of it has to do with preventing displacement and having enough protections in place so that renters can’t be gouged suddenly,” he said.  “And rents can’t be doubled out of blue and those kinds of things.”

The City Council also is seeking to protect renters from evictions. Rent control would take longer because of a required additional step.  Minnesota law requires cities seeking to adopt rent control regulations to go before voters to seek the authority first.

That means the Minneapolis council will have to submit proposed charter amendments to the charter commission by the end of February in order to give the body enough time to consider them.

If a majority of voters approve the charter amendments this fall, the council will then be able to put a proposed ordinance through the usual legislative process.

“I think it might pass,” Gordon said.  “I think people appreciate having local control. And might appreciate having some options. It does seem to be more popular now than it has in the past.”