Minneapolis activists seek rent limits; St. Paul's mayor tries to roll brand-new policy back

Minneapolis activists are turning up the pressure on City Council to pass limits on rent increases, saying the permission slip voters passed on Nov. 2 amounts to a mandate for St. Paul-style restrictions.

At the same time, St. Paul's mayor is trying to roll his city's brand-new policy back over concerns about housing development. St Paul voters last week approved a cap of 3 percent a year with no automatic exemptions, one of the nation's strictest policies.

Voters passed different ballot measures in each city. While St. Paul's vote created a new ordinance, Minneapolis voters simply gave permission to Mayor Jacob Frey and City Council to craft one. The road ahead is uncertain because Frey opposes rent control and progressives lost a council seat in last week's election, making it harder to override a mayor's veto.

Minneapolis rent control supporters campaigned on plans to limit rent increases to the inflation rate or to 3 percent, as St. Paul voters did. When asked Tuesday, they repeated their call.

"We have to work on that (exact percentage). We'll try to pass a policy as strong as St. Paul, and we have to pass a policy that works for Minneapolis," Jen Arnold of Tenants United for Justice, a group that campaigned for rent control, told reporters Tuesday.

Frey has said he opposes policies like St. Paul's proposed 3 percent cap. During an interview with FOX 9 in October, he did not commit to signing any future price controls that Minneapolis City Council might approve.

"I do not support rent control in its classic form," Frey said at the time. Tuesday, a spokeswoman said the mayor wants input from housing experts, city staff and community partners in the policymaking process.

Across the river, St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter is already seeking changes to his city's rent control policy, which won 53 percent of the vote last week. Facing pressure from developers, Carter said over the weekend that he would seek an amendment to exempt new construction from the rent limits.

"Turning off our supply of new housing would be disastrous for us as a community," Carter said in a Sunday interview with FOX 9.

Deputy Mayor Jamie Tincher followed up in a Monday email to City Council members, saying the change was necessary to allow developers a "reasonable return on investment."

That language aligns with the new ordinance, which allows developers to apply for exemptions to ensure a reasonable return on their investment. Yet any changes face legal uncertainty. The St. Paul City Attorney's office has warned that any major amendments within one year would risk a lawsuit.

"That’s always a possibility," Carter said Sunday when asked about a potential lawsuit. "Of course our City Attorney’s office is preparing to make sure the interests of the city are always protected legally."