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Rent control advocates press Minneapolis leaders

Voters approved a city charter change in November granting the Minneapolis City Council the option to pass a rent control ordinance

MINNEAPOLIS — They came bearing clocks.  Well, actually, props shaped like big clocks.

Rent control advocates climbed three flights of stairs at Minneapolis City Hall Friday to deliver a message to city council members and Mayor Jacob Frey. They want immediate action to follow through on what voters decided in November.

"The voters voted and said that we need a rent stabilization policy now. We need one this year. We need one as soon as possible so we can protect renters," Jennifer Arnold, of the Home to Stay Coalition, told reporters. "Our new council has been sworn in, and we are here to reiterate that the time is now for a policy on rent stabilization."

Minneapolis voters passed an amendment to the city charter that, for the first time ever, empowers the Minneapolis City Council to enact a city ordinance that regulates rental rates in the city.  It left it up to the council to decide what form it would take, and whether to impose any regulations at all.

Coalition members delivered one of the clocks to city council offices, where they received a warm reception from newly elected council members Robin Worlobah, Aisha Chughtai and Elliott Payne. That was no surprise.

The trio joined two other council members on an opinion piece in Friday's Minneapolis Star Tribune calling for a rent control ordinance in line with what Home to Stay Coalition is advocating.

It would feature a three percent annual cap on rent increases. It would apply to all rental property, including single-family rental homes. It would also bar landlords from breaking that three percent cap in between tenants.

"There was a study the City commissioned last year that shows nearly half of Minneapolis residents are cost-burdened, meaning they’re paying way too much money every month toward their housing costs," Ward 10 Council Member Chughtai told KARE. "So, it’s really clear we need urgent action. And it’s clear we need to focus the voices of those that are most impacted by this."

KARE also reached out to the Minnesota Multi Housing Association, an organization of multi-family housing owners that opposed the ballot question. MMA President Cecil Smith said landlords will expect Mayor Frey to exercise his powers to block any ordinance that creates an extraordinary burden for the industry.

Among those on hand for the coalition's event was Kevin Whelan, a Minneapolis media consultant who is also the owner of a duplex with two tenants.

"I think small landlords and landlords of all sizes can do business and should be included in a rent stabilization policy," Whelan remarked. "I’m sure as the process unfolds local landlords, resident landlords will get plenty of input into the details and making policy that works for everybody. But the most important group to consider are people that need an affordable place to live."

Voters in St. Paul, in contrast to Minneapolis, passed a direct ordinance in November that will cap rents at three percent beginning in May, with some allowances for extra costs incurred by landlords.

It's still under debate whether the St. Paul City Council can alter those rules to create more exemptions for housing developers and landlords.

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