Minneapolis council committee votes to put questions on rent control to ballot


The Minneapolis City Council voted overwhelmingly in favor of putting two questions on rent control ahead of voters in November, bringing the city one step closer to taking one of the most aggressive approaches to tackling housing affordability amid continued housing shortages.

The policy and government oversight committee, which includes all council members, also presented a ballot question on Wednesday drafted by a group of citizens to replace the police service.

They decided to delay approval of another voting question drafted by the City Charter Commission – which oversees the city charter – which would give more power to the mayor. They asked the city attorney’s office to make small revisions. For these two questions – on the future of the police service and the authority of the mayor – the council can only approve the language of each one but not alter its substance. If both voting measures are approved, the city would be forced to face conflicting directives from voters.

If the questions on rent control are approved by voters, none of them will adopt a specific rent control policy. Rather, they determine who can write a rent control policy and who can approve it.

The first question would allow citizen groups to write rent stabilization policies and petition to present them to voters as a voting initiative, with voters expected to decide as early as November 2022 on a specific policy.

The second question would allow city council to write a rent stabilization policy and either adopt it on its own or present it to voters in 2022 or later.

If both are approved, the city will have several avenues to pursue a policy of rent control, possibly speeding up how quickly rent control could be implemented in the city.

Council voted 11-2 in favor of using the language it adopted in February, rejecting recommendations made by the city’s Charter Commission. The mayor – who has expressed reservations about rent control – could veto the move, which council could overturn with nine votes.

Council member Linea Palmisano, who voted against Council language with Lisa Goodman, instead pushed for adoption of the rent stabilization language proposed by the Charter Commission. She brought that to a vote, which fell 10-3, with Goodman and Kevin Reich voting in favor.

Earlier this month, the Charter Commission overwhelmingly voted against the proposal that would allow citizens to write a rent stabilization policy and a petition to put it on the ballot, arguing that it could result in a poorly constructed law and noted that the city charter cannot be changed by petitioning on any other matter.

The commission returned the second question – giving council the power to develop a rent control policy – with two major revisions. First, the policy would have to be approved by the voters, which means that the council could not pass it alone with a majority vote. Second, the policy should be approved by over 51% of voters rather than a simple majority.

No city in Minnesota has rent controls, but they are allowed to implement rent controls if approved by voters in a general election. Language in state law is ambiguous as to whether voters must approve specific policy proposals or whether they can simply authorize city leaders to draft a law, and the city attorney’s office has advised the council to submit any proposal to the voters during a general election to defend itself from possible legal challenges.

Palmisano argued that the council should trust the legal expertise of the Charter Commission and the city attorney, who agreed with the Charter Commission and recommended the city council go ahead with their alternative.

“The rationale for the Charter Commission here is strong,” Palmisano said. “They spent a lot of time analyzing this and they gave us a surrogate who, no matter what they thought of the proposal themselves, they thought was the proper way to go.”

Board chair Lisa Bender, who co-wrote the ballot questions with board members Jeremiah Ellison and Cam Gordon, said the Charter Commission’s recommendations would make rent control implementation cumbersome, saying his constituents need the city to act as quickly as possible.

“I respect the expertise of city staff and Charter Commission members who have law degrees and have done their legal analysis. I also respect the experience and wisdom of my constituents who know what it is like to live in a city where the rules are not written for them, ”said Bender. “We cannot adhere to the status quo that leaves our neighbors homeless. “

The council has adopted a series of policies in recent years aimed at increasing the supply of affordable housing, such as eliminating parking requirements, requiring developers to include affordable units in projects of more than 20 units and allowing up to ‘three units to be built on lots that were previously reserved for single-family homes.

These efforts contributed to a construction boom that led to average rents dropping in the city for the first time in years even as house prices continue to soar.

The council also decided to protect tenants by capping security deposits at one month’s rent, requiring landlords to notify tenants before filing evictions, and prohibiting landlords from considering criminal convictions and evictions upon filing. review of tenant requests.

Following the announcement that Minneapolis would consider putting the question to voters, Senate Republicans in the state legislature pushed for a proposal to close what they called a “loophole” in state law. and to prohibit any form of rent control. They then dropped the proposal in negotiations to end the moratorium on state evictions.

A study conducted by the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs at the University of Minnesota and presented to Minneapolis City Council Tuesday challenged the concern raised by opponents that rent controls would hamper development or reduce the quality of housing, but said apartments could be converted into condominiums, reducing supply in times of scarcity.

St. Paul voters will decide on a citizen-led petition that would cap rent increases at 3% per year for all buildings. A group of citizens across the river, Minneapolis United for Rent Control, is pushing for a similar proposal, which could make it to the 2022 poll if voters approve the first question allowing citizen petitions on rent control .

In California, which instituted rent stabilization Last year, landlords can increase the rent by up to 5% plus the local inflation rate. In Oregon, which approved rent stabilization in 2019, landlords are limited to raising the rent by no more than 7% per year plus the rate of inflation.

* This story has been updated to reflect that Council members Linea Palmisano and Lisa Goodman and the city attorney supported the Charter Commission’s rent stabilization proposal. It has been corrected to reflect that city council is expected to revise the wording of the final ballot on August 4.

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