BY DEBRA KEEFER RAMAGE
The Ward 2 Housing Forum presented by City Council Member Cameron Gordon on Feb. 21 was attended by over 70 people. A lot of the attendees were landlords, mostly small scale. The Zoom meeting was hosted by Gordon’s policy aide, Robin Garwood.
Co-presenters for the forum were Gretchen Nicholls from LISC (Local Initiatives Support Corporation, a national community development grantor) and Cottrell Doss and Jen Arnold, board member and director respectively of Inquilinxs Unidxs por Justicia/United Renters for Justice.
Council Member Gordon opened the meeting with a very good land acknowledgement, giving honor to Indigenous people as past, present and future caretakers of the (stolen) land on which Minneapolis as we know it today is located.
The crux of his opening remarks and slides was to delineate the seriousness of the housing crisis looming in the Twin Cities, as elsewhere; to list steps the city has already taken to ameliorate its effects; and to highlight four very important “next steps” coming up in 2021-22.
The accomplishments to date include incentives and zoning changes to increase stock of rental housing, which have resulted already in thousands of new units of affordable housing; an energy disclosure policy; and a Renters First policy. The four next steps, which comprised the major points discussed in the forum, are:
• TOPA – Tenant Opportunity to Purchase.
• Rent control / rent stabilization.
• Eviction protections.
• SRO (single room occupancy) developments.
Gretchen presented the “think tank” and grantors/lenders case for TOPA and explained what LISC and its partners have done so far to arrive at three proposed options for implementing TOPA in Minneapolis.
She started with a breakdown of current rental housing in Minneapolis. Single-family units (houses) comprise a massive 57 percent of rentals, with 2- to 4-unit buildings making up 32 percent. The remaining 11 percent is broken down to 5- to 20-unit buildings (7 percent), 21-50 units (3 percent), and 51-plus-unit buildings making up only 1 percent of current rental options.
Some property owners who rent out single-family houses, whether one or 50 of them, want houses and duplexes or even fourplexes “carved out” of the rent control, i.e., exempted, so that it only applies to big apartment complexes. But if you look at the numbers, this would leave up to 89 percent of renters unprotected. And the segments it would lean toward leaving out are families, poorer neighborhoods, and North Minneapolis more than, say, Uptown. So it’s easy to see that exemptions in future policies based on the size of the building would be very counterproductive.
LISC also conducted a series of studies, including researching TOPA in other jurisdictions (Washington D.C., New York City, San Francisco, Berkeley, Chicago, and manufactured home park TOPAs in New Hampshire and Minnesota) and holding numerous focus groups with landlords, tenants, lenders and others.
LISC proposed that Minneapolis choose one of the following options, of which their highest recommendation was for the second option:
• Right of first offer and refusal to tenant only, assignable, no affordability restrictions.
• Same rights, but for either tenants or organizations, assignable, with rent stabilization rules restricting future affordability.*
• Same rights, but for organizations only, not assignable, with the “4d” program restricting future affordability.**
Note * This option would mean that the unit after purchase could be owner-occupied or rented by an organization or the tenant’s assignee.
Note ** The 4d is a state program that reduces landlords’ taxes by 40 percent if they follow strict affordability/stabilization rules.
Jen and Cottrell presented the tenants’ view of both TOPA and rent control and how they would help tenants stay in their homes, and be a defense against homelessness and gentrification displacement. Inquilinxs has had four separate campaigns to protect tenant rights against landlords, and she said, “It always starts with a struggle over repairs.”
They have also done studies, one of which showed that in the great majority of cases where a landlord is forced by the city to make repairs, they respond immediately in one of two ways. One, they put the building up for sale, which can mean abrogation of leases and eviction of all tenants under the current lax laws. A TOPA rule would prevent that. Or two, they respond with a predatory rise in the rents, a move which would not be allowed under a rent control rule.
The presenters from Inquilinxs also addressed the eviction protection piece of the next steps solutions. Jen used their high-profile case with the notorious (now convicted) slumlord Frenz, as an example. In the two years Inquilinxs was fighting to buy the landlord’s buildings and form a cooperative (which has now happened—Corcoran neighborhood’s Sky Without Limits Co-op), they were simultaneously forced to fight individual evictions that occurred monthly. Needless to say, this took a lot of energy and money they could have used in building the cooperative.
Rent control will require an amendment to the City Charter, so it’s at least a two-step (and probably more) process. A hearing on the proposed charter changes will be held Feb. 24. See the city website for more information.
Council Member Gordon is co-authoring with Council Members Ellison and Bender a pair of eviction protection initiatives. The Just Cause rule would mean that a landlord needs to provide from a selection of allowable causes for eviction, and is based on a recent rule passed in St. Paul. The Notice Requirement rule, based on a St. Louis Park ordinance, would give tenants time to respond and prevent eviction, and reduce the destabilizing, harmful effect of UDs (Unlawful Detainers) on tenants.
In the 40 minutes of Q&A, most tenants and homeowners and some landlords welcomed the proposed initiatives after asking clarifying questions. Some landlords worried that their current practices would become illegal, but the presenters assured them that small rent increases and eviction for non-payment of rent would not be affected and, in fact, the new rules could give them help in running a fair rental business.
For more information check these web pages:
LISC Twin Cities – https://www.lisc.org/twin-cities/
United Renters for Justice (Inquilinxs) https://www.inquilinxsunidxs.org/en/home/
Minneapolis United for Rent Control – https://www.facebook.com/MinneapolisUnitedForRentControl/
Last month we asked candidates for City Council in the Second Ward three questions. Cam Gordon was ill and could not respond. His answers are here:
*Do you support a full and public investigation into the killing of Terrance Franklin by the MPD?
Yes. I called for this investigation at the time Terrance Franklin was killed by police (http://secondward.blogspot.com/2013/06/the-death-of-terrance-franklin) and I renew that call. A credible review that could offer insights into how to make sure the horrific and tragic incidents of that day are never repeated could be very valuable.
*Do you support the 2040 Plan that up-zones the inner city?
After making extensive amendments, I voted for the 2040 plan, and believe it offers a path towards racial equity and fighting climate change. We cannot rely on the housing market however for its effective implementation but must continue to create incentives and regulations to ensure quality affordable housing for all.
* Would you support transferring block clubs to the Minneapolis Health Department from the MPD?
Yes. I coauthored the Safety for All budget that moved Crime Prevention Specialists out of MPD, and have long advocated for a change in how the City organizes block clubs. I believe that a collaborative effort from the Health Department and Neighborhood Community Relations Department could yield the best results.