Mpls voters could decide whether to impose rent controls on landlords

Faiza Mahamud, Star Tribune
·2 min read

The Minneapolis City Council is reviving a hotly contested idea to address the housing crunch: rent control.

Council members Jeremiah Ellison and Cam Gordon and Council President Lisa Bender introduced two charter amendments that would cap rent hikes in Minneapolis, a move they say will protect renters in the city from "egregious and unaffordable rent increases."

Last year, the council gave the University of Minnesota Center for Urban and Regional Affairs a nearly $88,000 contract to study the effects of rent control. Those findings will be shared at a council meeting Tuesday afternoon.

The council's Policy & Government Oversight Committee is also scheduled to hold a public hearing Wednesday on the proposed charter amendments and may refer the issue to the full council for a vote Friday.

While rent control has been around for years in some large American cities, it's gaining traction nationwide as more cities grapple with a tight housing market. In Minneapolis, city leaders have been keen on addressing its shortage of affordable housing in recent years, which they say has led to homelessness crisis that disproportionately affects people of color.

City leaders said the proposed initiatives are critical to their ongoing efforts to protect vulnerable renters from housing costs that risen faster than their income. The proposed amendments would give the city the power to impose a rent control ordinance or put a question on a future ballot, or to let Minneapolis residents petition to put a rent control question on the ballot.

More than half of the population in Minneapolis rents, according to the city. And more than half of them earn less than 60% of the area median income.

Housing advocates, who have long been pushing local governments to take drastic steps, said putting a cap on rent will help keep housing affordable and avoid displacement in a city that's already grappling with homelessness crisis.

Opponents, however, argue the proposed amendments have unintended consequences, including decreasing the supply of affordable housing in the city.

Capping how much landlords can charge their tenants is not an easy feat. A 1984 Minnesota law prohibits local governments from adopting rent control ordinances unless approved by voters in a general election. To pass, at least 51% of voters must vote in favor of it.

And even before that, the proposed amendments have to go through several steps, including an approval by the council and then a review by the court-appointed Charter Commission. The commission has 150 days to make a recommendation to the council for final approval — which is expected some time in August — before it appears on the November ballot. The council can accept or reject those recommendations.

The three council members are also pushing an ordinance that would protect renters from unjust evictions. A formal introduction of that proposed ordinance is not expected until later this spring.

This is a developing story. Check startribune.com for updates.

Faiza Mahamud • 612-673-4203