Mayor Melvin Carter said Tuesday that he'll vote in support of St. Paul's rent stabilization ballot measure, which could be among the strictest rent control policies in the nation if approved by a majority of the electorate this fall.

After declining for months to take a stance on the issue, Carter posted on social media that he will be voting "yes" on the proposed 3% cap to annual rent increases.

"Not because the policy is flawless as drafted — we can and must make it better, quickly — but because it's a start," Carter wrote. "Whatever the outcome of this ballot question, our work will continue. Bold action on our housing and equity goals cannot wait."

The proposal isn't perfect but is a start for a city with housing equity goals that are too urgent to wait any longer, Carter said during a League of Women Voters St. Paul candidate forum Tuesday night.

"I do believe that there are concerns with regard to impact on potential new housing in a time where our population is growing so fast," Carter said. "It's a must for us to be able to build the new housing that we need to accommodate our rapidly growing population and I think it's going to be necessary for all of us to look at this as a start and not a finished conversation."

He recalled the five homeless individuals who died in St. Paul last winter, the sharp increase in people sleeping outside during the height of the pandemic, and the St. Paul Public Schools students who struggle with housing insecurity.

"We know that Black and brown families face rent increases significantly higher than their white neighbors. These are challenges we have to address. And to say that 'we have to think longer, we're not sure, we're neutral' in this time of crisis for our families is just not good enough," Carter said.

The policy decision is in the hands of residents after a coalition of housing advocates gathered more than 5,000 signatures petitioning to put the question on the ballot. They say the ordinance would provide stability to low-income tenants and keep rents affordable, while opponents argue it will discourage development and exacerbate the Twin Cities' housing shortage. A 1984 state law prohibits local governments from enacting rent regulations unless approved by voters in a general election. If passed, St. Paul's ordinance would take effect on May 1.

Four City Council members — Amy Brendmoen, Jane Prince, Dai Thao and Chris Tolbert — have said they will vote "no" on the ballot measure, while Council Members Mitra Jalali and Nelsie Yang have publicly supported the proposal.

Minneapolis residents will also see a rent control question on their ballots that, if passed, would give the City Council the authority to adopt a rent control ordinance.

Staff writer Zoë Jackson contributed to this report.

Katie Galioto • 612-673-4478