Rent control for St. Paul was approved, 53 to 47 percent, by the voters. Now the challenge of figuring out the ordinance and what it means begins.
The measure places a three present cap on maximum rent increases for all landlords. It doesn’t exempt new development or small landlords. Nor are there exemptions for landlords who wish to further raise rents after tenants move out of an apartment.
Elected officials are trying to sort out what they can and cannot do. Rent control advocates continue to celebrate the Nov. 2 ballot box win and outline their next steps. The Housing Equity Now St. Paul (HENS) coalition held an online update session Nov. 17 to celebrate their win and outline what’s ahead. Members are waiting to see more details about how the city will implement the measure.
Affect on projects?
Projects that are underway are being completed. That includes apartments going up at University and Raymond avenues, University and Hampden avenues, and University and Fairview avenues.
But developers and investors are putting other projects on hold, including the massive Highland Bridge project at the former Ford Motor Company plant site in Highland Park neighborhood. Multi-family residential projects there that are under construction are being completed but projects that haven’t broken ground are sidelined. That’s true in many other parts of the city.
Developer Alatus hasn’t announced the fate of its mixed use apartments near University and Lexington Parkway, which won city approval earlier this year.
Developer Reuter Walton is wrapping up work on its affordable housing apartments at University and Fairview, and is preparing for a 2022 start on a five-story mixed-use project at 695 Grand Ave. that is being built with the Kenefick family. Ari Parritz of Reuter Walton said that as of now rent stabilization isn’t forcing any changes to the design or construction of the Grand project.
The rent control ordinance is likely to have some impact on projects’ rental rates, said Parritz. Rents haven’t been finalized for either project.
Parritz is hoping for amendments to the ordinance. “We’re hopeful that the mayor and council find a way to exempt new construction from the policy as quickly as possible, and add other common sense features including vacancy decontrol and inflation adjustments that most other cities have as essential components of their policies,” he said.
That may be easier said than done. Under the city charter, the rent control ordinance cannot be changed for a year. The ordinance is in effect, according to the city attorney’s office. The city isn’t expected to have staff in place to implement it until May 1, 2022. That date was cited in the ballot language and enabling ordinance.
It’s not clear what will happen to other Midway projects that are on the drawing boards. At least one project on Marshall Ave. at Fry Street in Merriam Park neighborhood is moving ahead, as houses on that site were demolished in mid-November. Dean Cummings, who cochairs the Union Park District Council land use committee, said that group is trying to sort out which projects are moving ahead and which are on hold. About half a dozen projects are in the pipeline in that planning district alone, most on or near Marshall Ave.
Housing justice = racial justice
Rent control advocates are watching any proposed changes closely. “We did our job, we put it on the ballot and we won,” said organizer Tram Hoang. She noted the group won six of seven wards, including winning 78.6 percent of the votes in a Ward One precinct that is part of the historically diverse Rondo neighborhood.
“Housing justice is racial justice,” Hoang said.
HENS’ focus going forward is to reach out to tenants who may face steep rent increases between now and May 1, 2022. Margaret Kaplan of the Housing Justice Center emphasized that the city’s rental situation is being watched closely. “We’re asking people to report rent hikes,” she said.
Hoang and Kaplan also pushed back on the concerns raised by the development community and investors, and the argument that voters didn’t really know what they were approving. Both called the development delays and shelved projects “a fear-based disaster narrative.”
Can they make amendments?
For their part, elected officials disagree as to what they can and cannot do. Before the election Mayor Melvin Carter voiced support for the measure but also called for amendments. He wants city council members to work with him on exempting new construction from the measure.
In a letter to council members, Deputy Mayor Jaime Tincher said exempting new construction is a priority for Carter. She also said a webpage explaining the ordinance will be posted soon. A page was posted the day after the election but quickly taken down because it raised more questions than answers and irked city council members.
Council members question whether they can make amendments now. Under the city charter, any amendments couldn’t be brought forward for a year. They are pressing Carter’s administration for more specifics saying they need to see proposed amendments.
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