Half the population of St. Paul rents. There’s a renter — Mitra Jalali Nelson — on the City Council.
So it’s about time, Jalali Nelson and a group of community organizers say, to start tapping their knowledge about development, housing and the future of St. Paul. On Thursday at Hamline University, Jalali Nelson and staff members from five St. Paul district councils will host the first Renters Voice Summit.
“At the very heart of it is our community is over 50% renter, and renters are an increasingly critical mass in our community,” she said. “But at the same time, renters are underrepresented. … We want to get folks at the table who are experiencing issues we are trying to solve.”
Brandon Long, executive director of the Union Park District Council, said he first suggested holding a renters summit several months ago.
“We wanted to take advantage of the fact that we have a renter on the City Council,” he said. “While 50% of the people in Union Park are renters, renters are not on city boards and commissions. And we want to get folks at the table who are experiencing issues we are trying to solve.”
In August, Union Park’s land use committee created a Renter Engagement Task Force to help diversify its roster of district council volunteers.
The summit, which grew from that effort, is meant not only to tap renters’ ideas, but to serve as a resource for renters as well by providing information about city and state services and renters rights and protections.
Jalali Nelson wants renters to learn ways to get involved in local issues and make their voices heard.
“We’re hoping that this turns into larger-scale things,” she said, adding that Mayor Melvin Carter and the council have been talking about a possible fair-housing ordinance this year.
“Better tenant protections in our city are long overdue,” she said.
The renters summit is free and is scheduled from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Thursday in Room 111 at Hamline’s Anderson Center, 774 N. Snelling Av. There will be pizza, Jalali Nelson said.
Long said he hopes the renters summit leads to a citywide renters gathering and those events lead to even greater collaboration among St. Paul’s 17 district councils, which are neighborhood organizations that work with the city on planning and other issues.
An estimated 500 people, ranging from paid staff to volunteer board and committee members, are involved with district councils.
“And we’d like to tap into that to work together on citywide issues,” he said.