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Minneapolis council debate on rent control starts to take shape

13January 2022

The debate over rent control started to take shape at the Minneapolis City Council this week, with five council members expressing support for a 3% cap on rent hikes, one council member raising the idea of a second referendum and the council gearing up to form a rent control work group.

Council members Elliott Payne, Robin Wonsley Worlobah, Jason Chavez, Aisha Chughtai and Jeremiah Ellison, said they want to create a hard cap on rents similar to St. Paul’s in Minneapolis, though they would allow for inflation.

Meanwhile, Council Member Andrew Johnson wants to see the council draft a policy that can be on the ballot this fall.

“I appreciate the urgency around this issue in diving in and developing out the details,” Johnson said at a City Council meeting this week.

Going back to voters is an option for the council, the majority of whom want a carefully designed policy that helps tenants, but doesn’t hamper the supply and upkeep of affordable housing. In November, voters approved a proposal that was crafted by Council Members Ellison and Jamal Osman and then-council members Cam Gordon and Lisa Bender. It gave the City Council power to enact its own rent-control ordinance or put such an ordinance before voters in a future election.

Council members and tenant advocates who support a 3% rent cap said Minneapolis voters will approve a strong rent control policy if given the opportunity, but would prefer if the council enacts an ordinance soon to prevent people from imminent evictions.

“Most people assume that this was a policy that they were voting on in November,” Chavez said in an interview. “If we can get the votes to do it on the council, even better, but all options are on the table.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, the council discussed the formation of a work group that can help them design a rent control policy, among other things. Chavez said he and the other council members who support the 3% cap were not given enough information on the details of the work group before the meeting.

Although not formally approved, Council President Andrea Jenkins said the work group will be made up of council members, the mayor, city staff and community members. The City Council, she said, will develop the process and other details about the work group in the next two weeks.

The rent control work group is expected to play a role that previously would have been handled by city staff. After voters approved a change in the balance of power at City Hall, staff who the council previously relied on to study different potential ordinances now report directly to Mayor Jacob Frey. Frey opposes rent control and the council would need nine votes to override any veto.

“We want to make sure a rent control group is going to do the right work to make sure we get a strong rent control policy in place,” Chavez said.

The next City Council meeting is scheduled for Jan. 27.

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