As Saint Paul’s rent control ordinance nears its May 1 effective date, plans for implementing the new law are taking shape with help from a 41-member Rent Stabilization Task Force. The ordinance—one of the most stringent rent control measures in the United States—limits increases in the rent charged on all residential units in the city to a maximum of 3 percent per year.

The ordinance was approved by voters in a citywide referendum last November. The market has responded with developers postponing the construction of planned housing and landlords selling off their rental units. The publication Finance & Commerce reported on March 1 that Well Maintained Apartments has sold its eight buildings in Saint Paul. Company officials cited rent control as one reason for the sale.

Saint Paul Mayor Melvin Carter continues to call for an exemption from the ordinance for new construction. In his recent State of the City address and in remarks before the Rent Stabilization Task Force, he said his administration is working to iron out how rent control is implemented. “Every single city” with rent control has implemented an exemption for new construction, Carter said, and so should Saint Paul. “We cannot afford to lose the literally thousands of housing units that are on pause,” he said.

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To amend or not to amend ordinance

The mayor has asked the City Council to consider an amendment exempting new construction, possibly for a period of 15 years. However, some City Council members are concerned that such an exemption could put older, more affordable apartment buildings at risk of being torn down and replaced with new housing.

Rent control advocates are also pushing back, saying the ordinance should stand as approved by voters and threatening a legal challenge to any amendments. Under Saint Paul’s city charter, they noted, ordinances approved by voters may not be amended for at least a year.

The Rent Stabilization Task Force has been studying both short-term and long-term changes to rent control since it first convened on February 22. The group is meeting virtually weekly through May with the goal of having a report to Carter by June 24. The Tuesday afternoon meetings are live-streamed at tinyurl.com/StPRent2022.

Issues the task force is considering

The task force is working with staff from the University of Minnesota’s Center for Urban and Regional Affairs. CURA has studied rent control in the past and is providing research support and leading task force discussions. According to CURA director Ed Goetz, rent control measures across the U.S. have changed over time and that could also happen in Saint Paul.

One issue the task force will be studying is the cap on rent increases. Saint Paul’s cap is a hard 3 percent per year, but the maximum limit on rent increases could also be tied to the rate of inflation, Goetz said.

Exempting new construction is being discussed by the task force. So is an exemption for vacancy decontrol, which would allow landlords who increase rents only minimally or not at all for longtime tenants to increase those rents above the 3 percent maximum when those longtime tenants move out.

The Rent Stabilization Task Force is cochaired by Tony Sanneh, founder and CEO of the Sanneh Foundation, and Phillip Cryan, executive vice president of SEIU Healthcare Minnesota.

Task force members include Katherine Banbury, resident; Tony Barranco, Ryan Companies; Cecile Bedor, CommonBond Communities; Jay Benanav, resident; Clinton Blaiser, Halverson and Blaiser Group Ltd.; Monica Bravo, West Side Community Organization; Carolyn Brown, Community Stabilization Project; Scott Cordes, Project for Pride in Living; Arline Datu, resident; Malik Davis, Rondo Realty Group; Khayree Duckett, Dominium Apartments; Kelly Elkin, Old National Bank; Tou Fang, property owner; Jessica Fowler, YWCA; Thomas Godfrey, resident; Robbie Grossman, Saint Paul Area Association of Realtors; Tram Hoang, Alliance for Metropolitan Stability; Myisha Holley, resident; Rich Holst, property owner; Mya Honeywell, Realtor; Abdiaziz Ibrahim, resident; Rawnson Ivanoff, resident; Nathaniel Khaliq, BNV Properties; Chue Kue, property owner; Bill Lindeke, resident; Nene Matey-Keke, RNR Realty International; Carin Mrotz, Jewish Community Action; Thomas Nelson, Exeter Management; Dalton Outlaw, Outlaw Development; Kevin Pranis, LIUNA Minnesota & North Dakota; B Rosas, Minnesota Youth Collective; Katheryn Schneider, property owner; Julie Schwartz, Lake Street Realty; Emmanuel Speare, New City Properties; D’Angelos Svenkeson, NEOO Partners; Chris Tolbert, City Council member; Marcus Troy, resident; Kou Vang, JB Vang; and Clara Ware, resident.

Hoang and Ware have been active in HENS, the group that campaigned to put rent control on the November ballot. Ryan Companies, Project for Pride in Living and CommonBond are all involved in the Highland Bridge development at the former Ford Motor Company site in Highland Park. Exeter, Dominium and JB Vang have all been involved in local development. Benanav and Khaliq are former City Council members. Bedor is a former director of the city’s Department of Planning and Economic Development.

Mayor Carter has indicated that he wants the city to have a permanent commission or board to monitor rent control over the long term.

— Jane McClure

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