Voters will decide next week
Next week Minneapolis voters will have a chance to answer City Question 3, which proposes an amendment that would allow the city council to enact rent control measures that would limit how much landlords can raise rent prices.
Although disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, rent prices have been steadily on the rise in many American cities for years. An October Apartment List report shows that the average cost of a one-bedroom apartment in Minneapolis now stands at $1,538. Less than five percent of apartments in the city rent for under $1,000.
Jonathan Gershberg, a spokesperson for Jewish Community Action (JCA), said new restrictions are necessary to ensure that “families aren’t displaced by increases in rent.” JCA is a part of the Home to Stay Coalition, a group of local community organizations advocating for rent control.
JCA has engaged in grassroots movements for social and economic justice for 26 years. Members of the Coalition have gone door-to-door and held information sessions to educate people about the ballot question.
Many of those involved in the Coalition have direct connections to people who have been displaced recently due to increases in rent prices. “That’s one of the reasons why we believe this issue is so urgent,” explained Gershberg. He said pursuing housing justice is a reflection of the principles and values of the Jewish faith.
“Rent stabilization puts into law a thing us Jews have known for thousands of years—that we are obligated to protect and keep each other,” said Gershberg quoting JCA housing organizer emeritus Aaron Berc. “Rent stabilization gives us one path to fulfilling that obligation to see that everyone is housed and safe in our communities.”
Census survey data showed that between 2013 and 2017, 49% of Minneapolis renters spent more than one-third of their income on rent.
Question 3 proposes a change to the Minneapolis City Charter that would allow the city council to regulate rent prices by either enacting an ordinance directly, or by referring an ordinance to a ballot question and leaving voters to decide. In the case of a ballot question, the council’s proposed ordinance would go into effect 30 days after voters approve it.
“The majority of residents in the Twin Cities are renters, and this affects [people] across races, across communities,” said Gershberg.
Mayor Jacob Frey, who vetoed one rent control ballot proposal in August, tweeted on Oct. 20 that he supports local government control but is opposed to “classic” rent control. Other critics of the measure also say rent control could discourage developers from creating new affordable housing.
Sensible Housing, a campaign composed of property managers and owners in the Twin Cities, is seeking to educate residents about the potential negative effects of rent control. “If these ballot initiatives pass, it will mean fewer jobs and homes in both St. Paul and Minneapolis,” said Minnesota Multi Housing president and CEO Cecil Smith.
“Rent control is a failed policy that results in fewer housing options for renters and limits a property owner’s ability to maintain and repair older apartment units,” Smith said.
Opponents of the measure also say similar efforts to control rent prices in other cities have been ineffective. In 2020, rent control was limited to four states—California, New York, New Jersey and Oregon—as well as Washington D.C. and Tacoma Park, Maryland.
An 2018 analysis by the Brookings Institution found that rent control helps renters initially but reduces affordability and fuels gentrification in the long run. Renters may also choose not to give up rent-controlled apartments after securing one, even when a change in housing is warranted. This could lead to a “mis-match” of tenants and housing, as empty-nesters remain in large apartments fit for a family, while younger families with children are stuck in small units, the analysis says.
But Gershberg noted the proposal in Minneapolis would only set the groundwork for discussions around rent control to begin, rather than directly installing any new ordinances right away. There will be opportunities for stakeholders to work towards crafting an ordinance that does not cause negative and unintended consequences, he said, adding that, “the conversation just begins after we pass Question 3.”
In contrast, a St. Paul referendum would directly institute a 3% cap on rent increases and allow landlords to apply for an exemption. Both elections are scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 2.
Members of the Sensible Housing campaigns in both cities say rent control measures give the city council a “blank check” for setting rental prices. They propose instead building more affordable housing as a better solution for all parties involved.
Niara Savage is a contributor at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.