St. Paul strikes down key rent control protections

City is gutting bill passed by voters less than a year ago that “won by a lot”

St. Paul, Minnesota and Council Member Jane Prince (Getty, The City of St. Paul)
St. Paul, Minnesota and Council Member Jane Prince (Getty, The City of St. Paul)

St. Paul, Minnesota, has decided to let landlords raise rents on rent-controlled apartments after a tenant moves out, as well as exempt thousands of units built in the last 20 years from its rent control law.

The decision to gut key aspects of a rent stabilization ordinance approved last November by 53 percent of voters comes after several developers threatened to pull out of the local market, according to the Twin Cities Pioneer Press.

Housing starts are down 30 percent since the ordinance was passed, compared to the city’s four-year average.

The decision passed 4 to 3, according to Fox 9 KMSP.

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While critics of the deregulation argue it puts thousands of tenants at risk of losing their homes, Council Member Jane Prince said some landlords had hiked rents more than usual since the rent control ordinance was passed, out of fear they would never be able to raise them again. The dispute echoes conflicts in other parts of the country, including New York City, about how to make housing more affordable.

“Since this passed, it’s been really bad for my ward,” Prince added. “I immediately lost 100 affordable units when a developer pulled out.”

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In Harlem, a local politician recently killed a 51 percent affordable housing project, arguing that the market rate apartments would gentrify the area.

Previously, stakeholders created a 41-person Rent Stabilization Task Force to examine potential policy changes, according to Fox. The group met 15 times before recommending the changes approved last November.

“I, to this day, do not understand why we worked this hard to pass this ordinance, we got almost 10,000 signatures on the ballot and we won by a lot — why were we tasked to do this,” said Katherine Banbury, a task force member and lifelong renter at a meeting, according to Fox.

Low-income renters have also expressed concerns about rents rising already in the wake of the ordinance’s passing, Fox reported.

Most rent-control laws around the country allow landlords to raise rents upon vacancy to offset the cost of repairs and renovations that owners want or need to make in between tenancies. Supporters say that is necessary to maintain the housing stock, but opponents say it incentivizes landlords to push out tenants and reduces apartments’ affordability.

New York reformed its rent stabilization law in 2019 to severely limit rent increases tied to improvements, and eliminated the 20 percent rent increase possible upon vacancy. Landlords say that has resulted in tens of thousands of vacant apartments being mothballed.

[Twin Cities Pioneer Press; Fox 9] — Harrison Connery