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St. Paul expected to vote next week on rent stabilization ordinance

After voters passed one of the country's strictest rent control measures, the council may vote next week on some changes to the policy.

ST PAUL, Minn. — Ten months after St. Paul voters approved a measure to cap rent increases to three percent per year, it appears the city council will finally vote on a full package of changes to the policy next week.

The council will not be erasing the rent stabilization measure, which is perhaps the most stringent in the United States. However, after developers raised alarms and even put some projects on hold, council members began to discuss ways to regulate the ordinance that voters passed last November. Most notably, the council will consider a rent-control exemption for any building constructed in the next 20 years — or the past 20 years — to incentivize development. 

On Wednesday, the council also unanimously advanced an amendment that allows landlords to increase annual rent by 8 percent plus inflation if there's a change in tenancy. While it exceeds the 3-percent cap set by voters, it's not as drastic as last week's amendment, which would have allowed landlords to raise rents for vacant apartments as high as they pleased. That amendment will now receive a public hearing next week ahead of the anticipated vote on the entire ordinance. 

Council member Chris Tolbert said the amendment to limit rent increases during a change in tenancy is a way to "thread the needle." His colleague Mitra Jalali, meanwhile, said she voted "yes" reluctantly because at least it set some limits — unlike last week's idea to give landlords free rein on vacant units. 

"It makes something better that I think was bad," she said at Wednesday's meeting. "I still think that this was a policy direction that will create issues in our city."

Ahead of next week's vote, people on both sides of the rent-control debate continue to voice strong opinions. The Minnesota Multi-Housing Association, which represents property owners and managers, still says "rent control should be completely repealed." 

In a statement about Wednesday's amendment, the organization told KARE 11 that "making a terrible idea less terrible is not a housing strategy. Producing housing and improving availability is a strategy that would make St. Paul more affordable and drive economic opportunity. While inflation is causing costs to rise, Mayor Carter requested a 15-percent levy increase, but in the same environment housing has maintenance, energy, and property tax costs that far exceed the 3-percent rent cap."

But Marcus Troy, a longtime renter on St. Paul's West Side who also sat on the mayor's rent stabilization task force, said the 3-percent cap is necessary for "affordability and stability." He said he disagrees with council members who want to make changes to the policy he voted in favor of last November. 

"They've done nothing but tear that down, since that vote in November," Troy said. "There have been so many amendments. All their amendments are pretty much geared toward the developers. They're getting a whole lot of perks. But what about the renters?"

Phillip Cryan, the executive vice president of SEIU Healthcare Minnesota and a co-chair of the same mayoral task force, said it was important for his group and the council to find common ground among renters and landlords. 

"We listened to property owners, we listened to developers, we listened to renters and to homeowners like myself," Cryan said. "And, by a good faith exercise of listening and learning and compromise, we reached a set of agreements moving forward that still is very strong, but that also addresses some of the needs of the developers and the property owners."

If the city council passes the full ordinance next week, Mayor Melvin Carter appears ready to sign on the dotted line. 

"Today's vote reflects the will of our voters and the recommendations we received from the stakeholder group this summer," Mayor Carter said in a statement following Wednesday's vote on the change in tenancy amendment. "I look forward to signing this ordinance as currently drafted."

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