Saint Paul is the only home Laura Stuart has ever known. Born and raised in Minnesota’s capital city, the single mom is among the nearly 58,000 other renter households in Saint Paul who live with the anxiety that their landlords could spike their housing costs and push them out of their homes.
Last week Stuart joined elected officials, community leaders and housing advocates for a press conference urging residents to vote yes on a rent stabilization measure on the St. Paul ballot on November 2. Unlike Minneapolis, voters in St. Paul will have the chance to enact a specific community-instigated policy that would limit rent increases to 3% annually for all units across the city, a proposal that gained more than 9,000 signatures from local voters to get on the ballot.
For renters like Stuart, the need for this proposal is clear and personal. Presently, there are no limits on how much a landlord can raise the rent once a lease expires. Tenants across the city have reported property owners hiking rents by hundreds of dollars without making repairs or improvements or giving any justification for the increase.
“In one of the apartments I lived in in Frogtown, I had a predatory landlord who was just about taking money from us,” said Stuart at the press conference. “Trying to get repairs fixed and being attentive wasn’t a priority for him. That same landlord unexpectedly raised the rent by $200-$300 each month. This caused a lot of stress and my daughter could tell. A five-and-half year-old shouldn’t have to feel their mom being stressed by an unexpected rent increase.”
According to data from the 2019 American Community Survey, just 39% of White households in St. Paul are renters, compared to 82% of Black, 64% of Native, 62% of Latin and 58% of Asian households. Research from the University of Minnesota also revealed that, over the past 20 years, BIPOC renters in the region have experienced far steeper rent hikes than White tenants.
“Generations of discriminatory policies and private interests have used housing to concentrate wealth for themselves, pushing indigenous communities off of their lands, enacting policies that explicitly prohibited People of Color from homeownership, and destroying thriving Black communities who were unable to gain access to homeownership and housing stability,” said Tram Hoang, campaign manager for the Keep St. Paul Home effort.
Since the measure was officially placed on the ballot in August, the Keep St. Paul Home campaign has garnered more than 40 endorsements from local organizations and policymakers at the local and state level, including St. Paul City Councilmember Mitra Jalali.
“There is no single solution to our housing crisis, but we take pride as a city that we have started putting important pieces together,” wrote Jalali in a recent opinion piece supporting the measure. “Rent stabilization is a critical policy within this body of work.
“While we continue to encourage building an abundant supply of homes at all income levels, extractive rent spikes are still pervasive challenges renters face now. Acting on this immediately is a racial equity imperative.”
The Sensible Housing Ballot Committee (SHBC), which opposes the ballot proposal, has waged an expensive campaign of mailers, texts and advertisements across digital platforms to convince voters that the policy will have a negative impact on local landlords and housing supply. It has been reported that the SHBC has raised nearly $4 million, overwhelmingly from out-of-state associations and local real estate interests. In contrast, the Keep St. Paul Home campaign raised $215,000 with 76% of contributions less than $100 and 77% coming from St. Paul.
During an October 13 press conference, some local landlords showed their support for the rent stabilization policy, rejecting the claims of the opposition with their personal experience as property owners. “I have been getting flyers in the mail about this initiative, and they say that small mom-and-pop landlords would go out of business if this passes,” said Katheryn Schneider, who owns and rents property in the North End of St Paul.
“Well, they haven’t spoken to me, and it’s just not true. This initiative would change nothing for us. We take pride in our buildings and feel it is a privilege to be able to provide housing. The rent stabilization measure won’t have any impact on responsible property owners, but will protect our community against price gouging and predatory landlords who want to use housing to extract as much profit as possible.”
Advocates for the ballot measure have emphasized that voting yes for rent stabilization is an essential step, but the participatory process would not end on election day. Earlier this month, St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter announced that he would be voting yes “not because the policy is flawless but because it’s a start.”
“We look forward to continuing to engage with Saint Paulites after the election once this policy is passed to ensure this policy addresses the issues of renter stability while also allowing for continued housing quality, local ownership and new production,” said Vivian Ihekoronye, lead organizer with ISAIAH in Saint Paul, at the press conference. “The fight for rent stabilization is about building the Saint Paul we know is possible, one where we can continue pursuing racial equity and making sure people have homes to live in no matter who they are, what they look like, and what’s in their pockets.”
Carolyn Szczepanski welcomes reader response to Carolyn@alliancetc.org.