The Minneapolis Charter Commission overwhelmingly voted Wednesday to reject the idea of putting a citizen-led petition for rent control on the November ballot, citing policy and legal concerns.
But the commission suggested that a city effort to control rents still must go to voters, offering a substitute amendment that it said complies with state law.
Commission members said that a resident-driven petition — typically drafted by advocates — could result in poorly drafted law that might threaten the rights of those it's meant to help. But the commission suggested that a City Council-sponsored rent control measure must be approved at a general election by at least 51% of the voters before it can be put into effect.
Rent control efforts are meant to protect tenants, particularly people of color, from being priced out of their homes and to remedy the city's affordable housing crisis. Unlike many other major cities, Minneapolis has never had a rent control initiative as part of its charter, commission chairman Barry Clegg said.
A 1984 Minnesota law prohibits local governments from adopting rent control ordinances unless approved by voters in a general election.
Council President Lisa Bender and members Jeremiah Ellison and Cam Gordon introduced both the citizen-led and council-led rent control charter amendments. In a recent interview, Bender said offering several options for how to pass a rent stabilization policy puts the city in a better position for legal challenges, "partly because the state law is a bit ambiguous and hasn't been tested in the courts."
Council members have not offered any policy specifics on what the city's rent control program would look like. They said they first want to see if voters will approve the amendments before having that conversation.
The council's proposed amendment says that a rent control ordinance must be adopted at "a general or special election." It also states that the council may adopt a rent control ordinance without voter approval.
The Charter Commission substitute amendment, however, makes it mandatory for the council to submit its proposal to voters before adopting a rent control ordinance. The commission also recommended that if the council passed the proposed amendments, Mayor Jacob Frey would need to approve or veto it. The 13-member council then would need nine votes to override that veto.
Frey opposes the citizen-led ballot measure and has said he does not support rent control "in its classic form," arguing that such policies have not made housing more affordable.
Nevertheless, the council can reject the commission's recommendations and put its original proposals on the ballot. But the commission suggested that the council must complete a racial equity impact analysis and hold a public hearing if it were to move forward with a citizen-led ballot question. With an Aug. 20 deadline looming to get the items on the Nov. 2 ballot, council members cannot modify their proposals without starting a review period all over again, which could take up to 150 days.
In a statement Wednesday, Minneapolis United for Rent Control, a group pushing for a more stringent rent control measures, pushed back on the commission's vote to reject a resident-led petition, saying the council "is not bound or obligated to follow the recommendation of the unelected Charter Commission."
Since March, a working group made up of six members of the Charter Commission has been reviewing the council's rent control proposals and meeting with the City Attorney's Office to get advice on some of the legal challenges it has found in the amendments. In early June, the group recommended that the full commission should reject the citizen-led measure and offer a substitute amendment for a City Council-sponsored rent control ordinance to comply with state law. At that time, the commission voted to defer a final action until Wednesday, following concerns from some members who said they weren't ready to make a decision until they studied the economic impacts of rent control, something the commission wasn't tasked to do.
At Wednesday's meeting, Commissioners Matt Perry and Lyall Schwarzkopf were among the six who voted against the substitute amendment, saying they didn't agree with the 51% threshold for approval of a referendum, which is the state's standard for approving constitutional amendments.
"But I feel that because the impact of rent control affects everyone in the city … that it should be 50% of all voters, with voters who are not voting to be considered a no vote," Perry said.
In St. Paul, a community group has launched a petition to put rent control on the November ballot. The group, called Housing Equity Now St. Paul, is proposing to limit rent increases on all residential properties to 3% each year.
Faiza Mahamud • 612-673-4203