Marri Renne writes about why rent control is a bad idea (MyVillager Inbox, August 3). She gives a detailed account of the effects of Saint Paul’s new rent control ordinance on her ability as a landlord to improve her property and offer amenities like laundry, trash and water services. I appreciated reading of her personal experience, but her closing sentence gave me pause: “Politicians should stay out of the rental market.”

The fact is, politicians cannot be blamed for enacting the rent control ordinance. The only politician who bears any responsibility is Mayor Melvin Carter, who publicly endorsed the measure three weeks before the November 2 election. This rent control ordinance, the strictest in the nation, was put on the ballot by an advocacy group called Housing Equity Now. HEN collected 9,100 signatures to get the referendum on the ballot. Saint Paul has more than 196,000 registered voters. A total of 58,546 of them voted on the measure, with nearly 53 percent in favor. Saint Paul citizens are responsible for the city’s rent control policy.

The policy has many downsides, most notable the immediate cancellation of several housing construction projects at Highland Bridge and elsewhere in Saint Paul. Mayor Carter understood the severity of the problem and immediately tasked the City Council to fix it. He could have expressed his hesitation about the policy prior to the election and encouraged a more measured approach, but that was not how he decided to handle it. The City Council, which did not write the policy and received no guidance or communication from the mayor’s office, was tasked to possibly amend the ordinance to be more workable for renters, developers and landlords.

This letter is a cautionary tale of how complicated issues can turn into law without the careful and informed consideration of the electorate. I have friends who voted in favor of the rent control ordinance. They admitted they didn’t have a good understanding and hadn’t read much about it, but voted in favor because “it seemed like a good thing to do.”

Saint Paul almost had another issue placed on the ballot this fall in the same manner as the rent control ordinance. A group called SPARK collected signatures on a petition aimed at putting universal preschool on the ballot.

I interacted on a couple of occasions with people on the street who asked me to sign the SPARK petition. I asked questions regarding the cost of the program and how it would be paid for that were met with very vague answers. (The program was to be paid for by raising property taxes.) I observed others who signed the petition without asking any questions at all. SPARK submitted a petition with nearly 20,000 signatures, but Ramsey County officials could only verify about 8,500 of them. Thankfully, that fell short of the number required by state law.

This letter is a cautionary tale of how complicated issues can turn into law without the careful and informed consideration of the electorate. I have friends who voted in favor of the rent control ordinance. They admitted they didn’t have a good understanding and hadn’t read much about it, but voted in favor because “it seemed like a good thing to do.” Even City Council member Rebecca Noecker, chair of the SPARK campaign, acknowledged that universal preschool is a big idea and that “big ideas need careful consideration.”

 

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The City Council had the power to put the universal preschool measure on the ballot after the petition failed, but decided instead to form an advisory committee to evaluate the need for the universal preschool program and determine how it would work and be funded. This is an example of our elected officials working to avoid having another complicated policy adopted in the same manner and with the same problems as the rent control policy, and I applaud their decision.

I encourage citizens to think carefully when presented with these issues, to understand what they are being asked to sign, to use all available resources to inform themselves (including this excellent publication) and to show up and exercise their right to vote on issues that concern our city. We can’t blame politicians if we don’t do at least that much.

— Lori Raduenz

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