Minneapolis voters will get the chance in November to decide if the Minneapolis City Council should have the authority to enact rent stabilization measures on privately owned residential properties.
What is rent control?
Policies differ across the country, but most have a few things in common.
Most cities that have rent control policies set a cap on how much rents can be increased each year. Most of those increases are tied to inflation.
Most rent control programs allow some way for landlords to exempt a property from rent control policies, either temporarily or permanently. There’s typically a way for landlords to raise rents above the cap when a property is vacant. Some programs even allow properties to be exempted from rent control measures when a tenant’s income hits a certain level.
Most programs are administered by a rent control board, which usually sets the cap. Landlords can typically appeal to the board to increase rents higher than the cap.
What would the rent stabilization ballot question change?
This change to the city’s charter would not immediately enact rent control or stabilization in Minneapolis. But state law requires that voters approve any rent control measures. This change to the city charter would allow the Minneapolis City Council to legally craft rent control policies.
As part of their 2020 budget, the Minneapolis City Council funded a study of rent stabilization programs that was done by the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs (CURA) at the University of Minnesota. The study analyzes a number of models for rent control policies around the country and looks at how they might be applied in Minneapolis.
What cities have instituted rent control regulations?
There are about 200 municipalities and two states in the United States that currently have rent control policies, according to the CURA report. The authors of that report distinguish between historical rent control measures in places like New York City, which included long-term ceilings on rents, and what they call rent stabilization, more moderate policies that are common around the country.
The first batch of rent control policies were put into place during World War I, according to the report. Most of those regulations were taken off the books by the ‘50s, but inflation in the 1970s led to the adoption of more moderate rent stabilization policies in big cities like Boston and San Francisco.
What properties would be affected?
It depends on what the City Council decides. But many cities decide to exempt new constructions or owner-occupied homes like duplexes. The impact of any future policy could be pretty broad, though, because more than half of Minneapolis residents are renters.
Does rent control work to keep prices down?
The CURA analysis of four cities with rent control policies found that they’ve effectively kept rental costs below market level and moderated rent increases. But researchers disagree on the extent of the impact.
What happened to the other rent control ballot question?
There were initially two ballot questions related to rent control. The other question, which would have allowed residents to gather signatures on a petition and put rent control policies directly before voters, was vetoed by Mayor Jacob Frey, who argued that policy shouldn’t be made through referendum.
Who supports the charter amendment?
It was offered by City Council President Lisa Bender and council members Cam Gordon and Jeremiah Ellison. It’s being pushed by Home to Stay Mpls, a coalition that includes faith-based, and tenants groups like United Renters For Justice - Inquilinxs Unidxs Por Justicia. They argue that rent control measures are necessary to keep rent increases modest, slow gentrification and prevent people from being forced from their homes due to sharp rent increases.
Other groups that support the amendment include Stay at Home Minneapolis — made up of a coalition of labor unions, worker advocates, religious groups and activists. And in St. Paul, there’s a group called Keep St. Paul Home made of neighborhood groups from places like Frogtown, housing activists and renters.
Who opposes the charter amendment?
Some of the major opponents of this charter amendment are the National Multifamily Housing Council and the Minnesota Multi Housing Association. In a post in early August, Vice President Jim Lapides wrote that rent control measures were “well-meaning,” but ineffective. He said rent control measures lead to buildings deteriorating and mostly benefit high-income households.
President Cecil Smith argues that rent control policies would have a chilling effect on building projects.
“Rent control sounds like a solution to the problem of housing affordability,” Smith said. “A closer look at rent control indicates it is the wrong solution. Building more housing that’s affordable is the right solution.”
What about St. Paul?
St. Paul voters will also consider a rent stabilization policy. It would limit residential rent increases to 3 percent annually. It also allows landlords to petition to exempt their property from the cap. Advocates say the St. Paul City Council could also adjust or tweak the policy.
What do the mayors think?
The campaign of Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said he will vote for the measure, but he doesn’t like the process. He plans to reserve ultimate judgment on whatever policy the City Council creates.
St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter said he’ll vote for the rent stabilization policy on the ballot, but the policy isn’t perfect as is. He has some concerns about slowing down construction projects but added that his city can’t wait for help on equitable housing.
What else is on the ballot?
Mayor Jacob Frey is up for reelection. He’s facing strong challenges from community organizer Sheila Nezhad, former state Rep. Kate Knuth and nonprofit director A.J. Awed, among others. All seats in the Minneapolis City Council are also up for reelection.
In addition to the charter amendment on rent control, Minneapolis voters will have the chance to weigh in on two other amendments. The first, which was introduced by the Charter Commission, would reorganize Minneapolis city government to give the mayor’s office more executive powers. The other ballot question would replace the Minneapolis Police Department with a new Department of Public Safety.
When does voting start?
Early voting starts for the Minneapolis municipal election on Friday, Sept. 17. Election day is Tuesday, Nov. 2.
This article was originally published Aug. 31, and has been updated.
What will appear on Minneapolis voters’ ballots?
"Authorizing City Council To Enact Rent Control Ordinance Shall the Minneapolis City Charter be amended to authorize the City Council to regulate rents on private residential property in the City of Minneapolis, with the general nature of the amendments being indicated in the explanatory note below, which is made a part of this ballot?
Explanatory Note: This amendment would: 1. Authorize the City Council to regulate rents on private residential property in the City of Minneapolis by ordinance. 2. Provide that an ordinance regulating rents on private residential property could be enacted in two different and independent ways: a. The City Council may enact the ordinance. b. The City Council may refer the ordinance as a ballot question to be decided by the voters for approval at an election. If more than half of the votes cast on the ballot question are in favor of its adoption, the ordinance would take effect 30 days after the election, or at such other time as provided in the ordinance."
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