St. Paul housing organizers push for rent stabilization

Volunteers and organizers of the rent stabilization petition effort take a break after collecting signatures.
Volunteers and organizers of the rent stabilization petition effort take a break after collecting signatures.

Community-based organizations within St. Paul neighborhoods have launched a campaign to collect 10,000 signatures to put rent stabilization on the November 2021 ballot in St. Paul.

This comes after last year’s successful advocacy for creating Minnesota’s strongest tenant protections ordinance in the city of St. Paul. This ordinance primarily focuses on landlords providing just cause in lease renewal, tenant screening, security deposit limits, and giving tenants advance notice about new property ownership and rent spikes.

“Housing is the most basic of human rights, and oftentimes it’s overlooked as that,” said Brian Rosas, advocacy manager of Minnesota Youth Collective. “Housing is a great foundation for people to build, to grow, to have generational healing, wealth, success, and without that you’re really just causing so much harm to communities.”

According to the American Community Survey in 2019, 39% of White residents in St. Paul rent, while 82% of Black residents, 64% of Native American residents, 62% of Latino residents, 58% of Asian residents do. Housing Equity Now St. Paul (HENS) is an extensive coalition of organizations and St. Paul community members to end outrageous rents spikes that unfairly impact Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) households which ultimately creates housing displacements and homelessness in the city.

“We have a shortage of housing [in St. Paul],” said Danielle Swift, anti-displacement organizer for the Frogtown Neighborhood Association. “There just isn’t anywhere for people to go. We’re trying to keep our communities intact and give people the opportunity to stay where they are connected to their families, their churches, and where their children go to school.”

Rent stabilization regulates the rate at which property owners can increase the rent after setting the initial price for rent. The coalition is campaigning for a policy that limits the rate of increase to 3% in a 12-month period across the entire city of St. Paul in all rental units.

For the past 20 years, the median rate of rent increase has been 2.7% in the Twin Cities according to a study conducted by University of Minnesota’s Center for Urban and Regional Affairs. “We don’t want to perpetuate this pattern of creating policies that help most people while letting the same people fall through the cracks,” said Tram Hoang, policy advocate at The Alliance. “The policy right now won’t even impact most renters if we’re talking about White renters and renters of higher wealth. If we are looking at the folks we want to protect from higher rent and displacement, the 3% is going to really target the protection of low-wealth and BIPOC renters.”

With the ban of rent control in Minnesota, rent stabilization offers a protection to community members to guarantee that they will be able to stay in place without worrying about being uprooted from their home and community. “Rent stabilization will give people the time to pace themselves and not get kicked out initially,” stated Rosas. “It not only stabilizes the amount of money you pay renting, but it stabilizes your community and the chances of you getting to stay in your home and grow.”

Rent stabilization does not just positively impact rents, but the entire community. When rent increases, the income of renters decreases as well. This leads to less spending at local businesses, restructuring of the community, and an increase in poverty and homelessness. While rent stabilization is not a primary solution to gentrification and displacement—there are many contributing factors—it is a way to slow the process down.

The BIPOC population are not the only victims of unfair rent inflation. Approximately 6% of the student population in the St. Paul community have experienced homelessness during the school year. These children often experience mental health issues and poor educational outcomes. Seniors and people with disabilities are also victimized because they are unable to work and living on fixed incomes that do not adjust when their rents are increased.

Additionally, LGBTQ community members are unjustly vulnerable to housing discrimination based on their gender identity and sexual orientation. If evicted, many individuals also face being turned away from shelters for these same reasons. Rent stabilization secures housing stability and creates living options for everyone.

With COVID-19 and the persistent civic and racial unrest in the Twin Cities, a safe, reliable place to call home is more important than it has ever been. Rent stabilization allows for true community and genuine relationships to be built. “We’re all neighbors,” said Swift. “We have homeowners who are involved. We have landlords who are in support of this. I think this speaks to the beauty and the power of what community organizing looks like.

“It’s the people who lead the work. There isn’t any exclusion around who is getting involved. It’s a beautiful thing to see the breaking away of those labels and really coming together. That’s what community power looks like. That’s how we win issues like this.”

Due to Minnesota State Law, signatures for the petition must be collected in person. HENS is hosting several events around St. Paul to spread awareness and collect their goal of 10,000 signatures by June 1to be placed on the St. Paul ballot by November 2021. Information about these events and other events hosted by HENS can be found on their Facebook page, Housing and Equity Now Saint Paul.

Khalifa Uchechi welcomes reader responses to kuchechi@spokesman-recorder.com.

4 Comments on “St. Paul housing organizers push for rent stabilization”

  1. What has the 20 year median increase been for housing rented by BIPOC tenants?

  2. As a landlord I sold my last building in St Paul before the new law went into effect. Because of the new law. These new laws are all going to work against the renters you are trying to protect. My upstairs tenant rented a 3 bedroom for $895 11 years ago. I waited 8 years before I Raised the rent $100 or 11percent. I was forced to as the City raised my property taxes 19 percent that year. If my rent increases were limited to 3 percent I would have lost even more money. Under the new law I would not be able keep the rent stable for the first 8 years knowing I would not be able raise rents when needed. The result would be raising the rent the maximum 3 percent every year. My old tenants rent would have been $1240 instead of the $995 they were paying. As a result of this new law every tenant you are trying to protect is going to get a 3 percent rent increase every year like clockwork. You are now giving the landlords the go ahead to raise rent without being competitive. With market forces having held rent increases to 2.7 percent over the past 20 years according to this article. Congratulations the new law just guaranteed that the next few years will see higher increases. Not to mention less individual compassionate landlords and more greedy corps. I did not feel right increasing the rent more than necessary and would not have increased rent for the forseable future. Every other property owner in the city can sell there property without any delays or interference except those who ARE providing the affordable housing everyone complains we have a shortage of. I sold my building BECAUSE of the new law. The city worked against me for the 30+ years I was a landlord and now they wanted to tell me I could not sell when I wanted to. Other landlords and homeowners were not HANDCUFFED by this new law and I was not going to let the city do this to me. You can act all self righteous and pat yourself on the back and tell everyone what good deeds youve done by adding more laws. I sold my building and am much better off. My old tenants are facing a $500 dollar rent increase and are being forced to move. They know why I sold and the city failed them.

    PS I know you are going to say that the new law would not allow him to raise rent. SO WHAT All he would do is give notice for a remodel, fix up a few things and re rent at an even higher rent. And my tenants would still be looking for a new place. If the dumb ass law makers would go out and Invest there own money in some affordable houses and become landlords themselves they could solve the problems and I will give them a pat on the back and say job well done. There answer to me who has been doing it is YOU CANT SELL, WE DONT WANT TO BE THE LANDLORDS.

    Sad note for all the good restaurants in St Paul I used to frequent. Due to the new 20 mile per hour speed limit I will not go to St Paul without an emergency. I will not be supporting restaurants or businesses in St Paul. This will not change without a complete overhaul of the City Council.
    Exception: Council person Jane Prince Had a very nice seminar for the support of landlords. She was the only council person that I can remember that did anything for landlords.
    In my personal experience with the city counsel, police and fire I have been witness to there criminal acts towards me and there citizens of color. I rented to black people, that made me a bad landlord. I will not say more, but if you think I am blowing smoke read the landlord lawsuits that have been going through the courts for years about the racist policies in St Paul. Emails from city staff saying we can reduce crime by getting rid of black tenants.

  3. As a landlord in St Paul, I try not to raise rents, because my tenants are low-income immigrants and already struggling to make ends meet. Unfortunately, my taxes on my triplex in Frogtown went from $750 (2014) to over $2400 (2020). My trash service went from $415 annually to $1095 annually. My profit margins were already slim with mortgage, insurance and utilities.

    As the city becomes more bureaucratic and expensive for landlords, it won’t make sense for landlords to own a rental property.
    Honestly, I would like to sell mine now and be free from the responsibility, except I really like my tenants and I don’t want to put them in a hard situation. One of my tenants is a single mother of 5, who moved here from Africa. Although she works full time, I know with the housing-shortage, it would be terribly difficult for her to find a new place. But as more and more small guys sell their rental properties, bigger companies will be the ones buying them, and bigger companies tend to have more policies and requirements, making it impossible for my type of tenants to qualify. So, I feel like sometimes these new policies are presented to help the people who are struggling, but in the end, they just end up making the housing more expensive which bolsters gentrification and makes it so only the ones who can afford to live in a “perfect neighborhood” are able to stay.

  4. As a landlord in St Paul, I try not to raise rents, because my tenants are low-income immigrants and already struggling to make ends meet. Unfortunately, my taxes on my triplex in Frogtown went from $750 (2014) to over $2400 (2020). My trash service went from $415 annually to $1095 annually. My profit margins were already slim with mortgage, insurance and utilities.

    As the city becomes more bureaucratic and expensive for landlords, it won’t make sense for landlords to own a rental property.
    Honestly, I would like to sell mine now and be free from the responsibility, except I really like my tenants and I don’t want to put them in a hard situation. One of my tenants is a single mother of 5, who moved here from Africa. Although she works full time, I know with the housing-shortage, it would be terribly difficult for her to find a new place. But as more and more small guys sell their rental properties, bigger companies will be the ones buying them, and bigger companies tend to have more policies and requirements, making it impossible for my type of tenants to qualify. So, I feel like sometimes these new policies are presented to help the people who are struggling, but in the end, they just end up making the housing more expensive which bolsters gentrification and makes it so only the ones who can afford to live in a “perfect neighborhood” are able to stay.

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