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What rent measures could mean for the St. Paul City Council race

Rent control has taken center stage in Twin Cities politics in recent years as the price of housing has skyrocketed, and it could determine who wins the St. Paul City Council elections.

While the cost to rent a 1 bedroom apartment in Minneapolis increased 24% this past year, in St. Paul rent for a 1 bedroom decreased by 3%, in part due to a new rent control law which has many landlords upset.

A coalition of landlords and business owners known as “Service St. Paul” aims to elect candidates that further its business interests. KARE11 reports that at least one member of the coalition blames rent stabilization measures for new construction slowing in the St. Paul metro area. The coalition has stated that it’s afraid a more progressive majority in the city council could introduce rent stabilization measures that could be “tough on landlords.”

But community organizers like Sean Lim call recent legislation a “half-measure,” saying that it barely covers what’s needed to keep residents in the city.

“You don’t have to look far in any city. You have these big corporate developers who bought up entire blocks of predominantly Black and Brown neighborhoods and bought these large swaths of foreclosed homes to make into rental properties, or to completely level them to create large apartment complexes,” Lim said. “It’s always been about profit, it’s always been about their bottom line, so it’s not surprising to me that the landlord lobby as a whole is amassing this large sum of money to go against candidates that are actually rooted in community and actually care about your typical St. Paul resident.”

Despite rent stabilization measures capping rent increases at 3% without city approval, Lim says that the number of loopholes that landlords can use to skirt the regulation makes it ineffective.

As of now, if a renter moves out of a unit, the landlord has the right to raise rent in that unit by as much as 8%. For a $1200 unit, that amounts to an almost $100 jump. Currently, one-third of rental properties are exempt from the stabilization ordinance.

The initial proposal brought to voters did not have these caveats; they were drafted by the current city council to “prevent developers from leaving the city.”

Service St. Paul has Lim both worried and fired up to fight for renters in the city.

“It is incumbent upon us now to do everything in our ability, our power, our capability to spread the word about specific races where a lot is at stake,” Lim said. “Where the balance of the council could sway one way or the other. The makeup of this current council for a four-year term could have lasting effects on either undoing this current council’s actions if we are to get a progressive majority, or it could lead down this spiral, this race to the bottom where the city becomes more and more pricey to live in.”

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