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 firstname.lastname@example.org.