As Rent Control Advocates Celebrate, St. Paul’s Town Hall Takes the Unanswered Questions – Twin Cities


In St. Paul, housing advocates celebrate a historic victory for one of the country’s toughest rent-control mandates, even as town hall grapples with how to interpret, staff and enforce a Voting initiative approved by voters for which she did not budget.

City council members this week expressed frustration and confusion over the effective date of the new rent increase limits, which is reportedly in May.

“We did not wait for decision-makers or donors. We have harnessed the power of the people and direct democracy to do it ourselves, ”said Danielle Swift, organizer of the Frogtown Neighborhood Association. “SMS banking, phone banking, door-to-door, 100% grassroots organization have been successful.”

Alarmed by overnight rent increases for low-income tenants, organizations such as the Housing Justice Center, TakeAction Minnesota, the Alliance and the West Side Community Organization have gathered signatures to get their own rent control proposal during the ballot of November 2 by petition, without coordination with the town hall, where support was limited at best.

“They did not come to the council or to the city first,” said St. Paul’s city council chairperson Amy Brendmoen, who spoke in favor of a “no” vote. “They just did.”


The lack of dialogue between the mayor’s office, city council and the advocacy community is fueling grudges on all sides, as well as questions around implementation.

Four of the seven council members had called for a “no” vote against the rent control proposal, which places a 3% cap on annual residential rent increases. The voting initiative was approved by residents of St. Paul on Tuesday with a vote of 53 percent to 47 percent.

Highlighting the disconnect, the full text of the city ordinance was difficult for the public to find until the city posted it on its website landing page on October 28, five days before the election. . The opposition was led in large part by realtors and the real estate development community, who raised $ 4 million and made numerous mailings.

“There have been a number of public forums,” said Margaret Kaplan, president of the Housing Justice Center in St. Paul. “I don’t think people walked into this uninformed. … (Our advocates) have done a great job telling people’s stories and connecting them to people’s experiences. But it was really hard to know what the impact of over $ 4 million would be on the ground. “


City council members expressed dismay on Wednesday that with the city’s 2022 budget process nearing completion and a maximum tax levy already approved, they will now have to figure out how to staff and fund what could be an elaborate appeal process. for exemptions from hardship. This could mean cutting funding for other city initiatives.

“It doesn’t seem like the administration has a lot of answers at this point,” City Council member Rebecca Noecker said Thursday. “The council doesn’t really have a legislative role. It’s all on the mayor’s side – education, enforcement, implementation and actually budgeting for it. … It worries me that there hasn’t been more preparation on the administration side, at least so that we can hire it and apply it. Orders don’t matter if they’re not enforced.

In Minneapolis, Mayor Jacob Frey vetoed a ballot last August that would have allowed voters to impose a new rent-control mandate. But he didn’t block a separate ballot question that asked voters whether Minneapolis City Council should be allowed to assemble an old-fashioned rent control ordinance – through public hearings, discussions between elected officials and negotiations.

As in St. Paul, voters in Minneapolis approved the poll question on Tuesday.

Minneapolis will have time to hire staff and build a legal and technical infrastructure around rent control that is still lacking in St. Paul, settling questions about how landlords can submit hardship appeals, where the city will find. money for execution and appeal hearings, and if the city council can amend the ordinance down the line.

In St. Paul, Carter had signaled his general support for a “yes” vote last month while calling for swift changes to the proposed ordinance, in light of concerns about a possible negative effect on housing construction. Carter, however, has not yet clarified what those changes might be, and the city attorney’s office has raised concerns that amendments that appear to deviate from voters’ intent could open up the city ​​to litigation.

“Now that residents have affirmed rent stabilization for our city, we look forward to engaging with community members to implement and improve this policy,” Carter’s director of communications Peter Leggett said Wednesday.


Nicolle Goodman, director of St. Paul’s Planning and Economic Development Department, told city council on Wednesday that the developers were already claiming to suspend projects in light of the ballot question, even though, according to the language of the ballot, the new rent limits won’t take effect until May.

While rent control policies across the country exempt new housing construction for 15 to 20 years to give developers a chance to attract finance and pay off debt, St. Paul’s new ordinance does. not, which remains a concern for Carter’s office.

“We need equity in housing. We need more housing supply, ”Goodman said. “We don’t want our equity goals to conflict with our growth goals. As the mayor pointed out, the ordinance as drafted may in fact contradict these objectives. I have received many calls from promoters of projects currently in preparation, which would bring hundreds of new housing units. And many of these development projects are now on hold and threatened. And this loss of new housing supply would have a negative impact on overall housing affordability. So we have to look carefully at this. “

Goodman said the city’s planning department had previously issued a long-standing request for proposals seeking a consultant to study a menu of affordable housing tools, including rent control. Two responses from potential consultants arrived on Wednesday. “This work will help inform the implementation of the ordinance,” she said.

Highlighting the experiences of cities such as New York, San Francisco and Seattle, proponents of rent controls have said any slowdown in housing construction will likely be temporary as the market turns around.

Swift blamed “generations of economic exploitation and exclusion from property” for marginalizing communities of color – some 82% of black households in the city rent, compared to 39% of white households.

“This policy will have a dramatic and immediate impact on the promotion of housing and racial justice in our city,” she said.


Here’s a more in-depth look at Tuesday’s election in Saint-Paul:

The St. Paul poll question instituting rent control – a 3% cap on annual rent increases – won with 53% of the vote, supported by a strong rally of support along the University Avenue corridor , the West Side and the North End, in particular.

It lost some traction in Highland Park north of Shepard Road and parts of the East Side, but more than made up for it along the Green Line, particularly in areas such as South St. Anthony Park and the Summit-University district.

“Six of the seven wards voted in favor,” said Kaplan, of the Housing Justice Center.

While neighborhoods that favored Carter generally favored rent control, this was not the case everywhere. In the north end, the the mayor had some of his weakest performances of the night even though the voters there adopted the new rent limits.

“There was a bit of a reverse, overall, with the 2019 vote on unified waste collection,” said Aaron Booth, policy consultant. “Ward 3 (Highland Park and Macalester-Groveland) voted for the garbage collection issue, and against the issue of rent control. There is a higher than average home ownership rate in this neighborhood, compared to the rest of the city.


Carter was easily re-elected on Tuesday with 62% of the vote, an even better performance in the eight-man race than in his first campaign for the seat four years ago. Carter enjoyed his greatest support along the political quarters west of downtown and surrounding the University Avenue corridor, and received his weakest returns on the Greater East Side.

Other candidates in the race included Dino Guerin, who received 13 percent of the vote; Paul Langenfeld (9%); Bill Hosko (6 percent); Dora Jones-Robinson (4%); Miki Frost (4%); Abu Nayeem (3%); Scott Evans Wergin (0.6%); and written (0.35 percent).

Carter has ruled virtually every constituency in the city, Booth said, and won over 50% of the vote in 73 of 95 constituencies. The notable exception was Ward 7, Ward 10 on the Maplewood border, which is located east of White Bear Avenue, between Conway Street and Minnehaha Avenue. Guerin won 144 votes, or more than a third of the constituency’s votes, against 133 votes for Carter.

North of Battle Creek, the East Side in general leaned towards a mix of candidates in their top picks. Perhaps surprisingly, Carter did quite well in Highland Park, where Langenfeld once served on the Highland District Council. The mayor got softer support in the North End, where results were more mixed among candidates.


St. Paul is a growing city that has seen an increase in the number of registered voters, but Tuesday’s election drew fewer of them than Carter’s first time at bat.

The mayoral race drew 59,103 votes, down from 61,464 four years ago when Carter and former city council member Pat Harris led. The turnout on Tuesday was 35 percent of the city’s 169,950 registered voters, up from 39 percent of the 156,543 registered voters four years ago, according to information available from the Minnesota secretary of state’s office.

By comparison, a tough contest between incumbent Mayor Randy Kelly and then-city council member Chris Coleman, who toppled Kelly, drew 59,500 voters in 2005. In other words, the city has held elections in 2005 on Tuesday, despite the city’s overall population growing since then by at least 35,000 people.

Shannon Brault contributed to this report.

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