Nov 1, 2021 - Politics
Rent control debate heats up in St. Paul ahead of Nov. 2 election
Construction workers and business leaders speaking against the rent control ballot question at St. Paul's Highland Bridge site.
Construction workers and business leaders spoke out against the rent control ballot question at St. Paul's Highland Bridge site. Photo: Nick HalterAxios

Friends and foes of a strict rent control ballot question in St. Paul have turned up the dial on the debate ahead of Tuesday's election.

Why it matters: Proponents say the initiative will protect renters from large increases that displace them from their homes.

  • But opponents say the measure will halt the development of new buildings and exacerbate the housing shortage here.

What's happening: Political action committee Sensible Housing Ballot has raised a whopping $4.4 million, mostly from developers and landlords to fight rent control proposals in St. Paul as well as in Minneapolis. That's more than what the two competing committees battling over the future of policing in Minneapolis have raised, combined.

  • Sensible Housing Ballot is on a blitz, sending out text messages and mailers in both cities.
  • Meanwhile, the two organizations fighting for rent control measures — Home To Stay Minneapolis and Keep St. Paul Home — say they're relying on volunteers phone banking and door knocking.

How it works: The St. Paul measure would cap rent increases at 3% with few exemptions for landlords, even if inflation remains high.

  • In Minneapolis, voters would be giving permission for the City Council to draft an ordinance. The specifics would be up to council members.

Between the lines: Opponents say the St. Paul ordinance will be the strictest in the country and will kill development of new apartments since it doesn't exempt new construction.

What they're saying: Ryan Cos. — the developer of the massive Highland Bridge project that will eventually bring 3,800 housing units to St. Paul — said it will put future rental housing projects on hold until its lenders can figure out what the rent control policy will do.

  • "We've identified $150 million to $180 million worth of (housing construction) that we will pause," said Tony Barranco, senior vice president of real estate development for Ryan.

The other side: Keep St. Paul Home campaign manager Tram Hoang said landlords think the rent control measure is strict because they are used to a state that is light on tenant protections.

  • "Those are really thinly veiled threats to stop investing in our communities that we've seen over and over again," she said of comments from Ryan executives.

The intrigue: It's hard to say how this one could go since there's no good publicly available polling on the question and because St. Paul is expecting low turnout due in part to a non-competitive mayoral race.

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