Voters in St. Paul and Minneapolis approved historic ballot initiatives Tuesday that will bring the cities in line with others across the country that have limited how much landlords can raise rents each year.
The two ballot questions — which in St. Paul will cap rent hikes at 3% and in Minneapolis allow city leaders to begin crafting a policy — pitted grassroots organizers against property owners who raised millions of dollars from across the country, blanketing the cities with messages urging voters to either enact a new tenant protection or avoid a potential roadblock to new development.
Claire Bergren, campaign manager of Home to Stay in Minneapolis, said advocates met opposition fundraising with hundreds of thousands of calls and text messages.
"It clearly showed that when you have conversations with voters about rent stabilization, about protecting our neighbors from unexpected, dramatic rent hikes, that it's common sense for people," she said.
Supporters said the initiatives — which would enact rent control in St. Paul in 2022 and allow Minneapolis to enact a yet-to-be-developed policy in the future — would create stability for tenants in a tight housing market where most residents are renters.
Limiting how much landlords can raise rents, advocates said, would most benefit low-income renters and renters of color, who research shows are more likely to see sharp rent increases.
Opponents, including developers, real estate interests and landlords, said they worried the policies could discourage new housing construction that the cities need. The Sensible Housing Ballot Committee, which led opposition in both cities, said in a statement late Tuesday that its members were "deeply disappointed" in the results.
"Rent control will be a major discouragement to new housing investment in our core cities," the statement said.
St. Paul's policy would not make exemptions for new construction or inflation. Critics said without those exemptions, the policy could be one of the strictest in the world. On Tuesday, some St. Paul voters said rent control was the biggest issue on this year's ballot, which also included mayoral and school board races.
Resident Nadia Sandstrom said she strongly favored the policy. With rents rising, she said she was voting to make St. Paul a more livable city.
"I would really love to make St. Paul the place where no matter what walk of life you come from, you can afford to live here and actually set down roots," Sandstrom said.
Mayor Melvin Carter and Mayor Jacob Frey, who were both seeking second terms Tuesday, indicated they would vote "yes" on the rent control ballot questions in their cities, with caveats. Carter said if the measure passed in St. Paul "we can and must make it better, quickly." On Tuesday night, Carter said he planned to bring together a group of stakeholders including renters, advocates, landlords and developers "who all have a stake in ensuring that our housing system works well for our community."
Frey said he doesn't support rent control but planned to vote yes on Minneapolis' ballot measure, which allows the council to either craft a policy or kick the issue back to voters.
Cody Tuttle of northeast Minneapolis said he had concerns about the rent control initiative but believed it would be a positive move.
"The way that I read it, it wasn't a specific form of rent control," said Tuttle, who lives in the Waite Park neighborhood. "I think there's enough leeway to make it really beneficial and impactful for a lot of people, and I hope it happens."
Judd Nolan, a Longfellow neighborhood resident, said Minneapolis needs more housing, and he believes rent control would discourage builders from operating in the city. Nolan voted against rent control, saying it was "treating the symptom, not the problem."
St. Paul Midway neighborhood resident Abby Lehrke said she has loved her neighborhood for years, but struggled to find affordable places to live because she didn't have a stable job. Though she now has a job she enjoys, she still worries the cost of housing could price her out.
"Now, I can hope to keep my rent from going up astronomically," Lehrke said.
Staff reporters John Reinan and James Walsh contributed to this report.