After getting an earful from impassioned supporters and opponents of rent control Wednesday, the Minneapolis City Council gave preliminary approval to two rent control initiatives.

A proposed charter amendment that would allow the city to impose a rent control ordinance or put a question on a future ballot got unanimous approval from the council, with two members absent. A separate charter amendment that would allow Minneapolis residents to put a rent control question on the ballot by petition passed by an 8-3 margin.

"I have had a lot of exchanges with renters in my ward over the years which led me to be one of the authors," said Council President Lisa Bender, who crafted the two charter amendments with Council Members Jeremiah Ellison and Cam Gordon. "The fact that landlords can increase rents with very little notice is impacting people's lives and their housing stability."

The debate over capping rent is still in its infancy and will come up for a second City Council vote this Friday. If approved, the proposals will be sent to the Minneapolis Charter Commission for review.

More than 140 people signed up to speak at the virtual public hearing Wednesday with more witnessing the battle over housing play out on their screens. The majority of those who spoke in favor of the proposals said they worried about being displaced because of the new luxury apartments springing up in their neighborhoods.

They urged council members to move quickly on the issue to help bring stability in their lives and remedy the housing crisis that has been exacerbated by the pandemic's damage to their finances.

Theresa Dolata was among the long queue of speakers in favor of the amendments. Dolata, a Windom neighborhood resident and a leader with the faith group Isaiah, said she's permanently disabled and can only work part time to keep her one-bedroom apartment.

"I don't want to end up homeless again, I don't want to be pushed out," Dolata said, her voice breaking with emotion.

Landlords were divided on the issue. Some small landlords spoke in favor of the proposals, saying they were willing to support it to help alleviate the pain felt by their tenants. Meanwhile, others sided with larger landlords, saying such restrictions would price them out of doing business in the city, even stressing that rent caps could force them to displace tenants and prevent much-needed capital improvements.

"What is happening now is a loss of predictability in rules going forward," said Mark Otness, a longtime landlord. "We will react and make our investments in other places for this reason."

For years, the debate over rent control has spurred a deep division between landlords fighting to do business without burdensome regulations and housing advocates who are wary of the rising housing costs that come with gentrification.

Many callers expressed strong feelings, positive and negative, about a preliminary report released Tuesday by the University of Minnesota Center for Urban and Regional Affairs (CURA), which found low-income tenants had endured steep rent increases and that rent control helps curb displacement.

Racial and economic disparity heightened by the pandemic is lending fresh urgency to the city's push to put restrictions on landlords and protect tenants from being displaced. But some advocates have criticized the city for putting too much focus on the process and not offering details on how the proposed restrictions would work.

City leaders said they want to first allow voters to approve the proposal before deciding the specifics of a rent control program.

Faiza Mahamud • 612-673-4203