With a resounding victory at the polls, a strong majority of St. Paul voters in six of the city's seven wards supported passage of a strong and clear rent stabilization policy. By any measure, it was an unprecedented step for housing justice, putting St. Paul at the leading edge of policymaking that truly centers the dignity and humanity of people who rent their homes.
Instead of spiraling into the false urgency fanned by the opposition that spent millions to beat back this transformative step forward, let's take a breath. Let's take a rational and measured approach to implementing the policy.
More than 30,000 residents voted for real change for the nearly 58,000 renter households who deserve the opportunity to Keep St. Paul Home. Our local government has a duty to deliver.
To be clear, this was not a narrow victory. The policy to limit rent increases to 3% annually for all units in St. Paul passed by a six-point margin. More than 64% of precincts citywide voted yes. In our most diverse wards that typically see lower election turnout, majorities as large as 60% of voters (First Ward) supported rent stabilization. This election was a clear mandate from renters, homeowners and landlords across St. Paul that business as usual — which offers no protections against predatory practices and massive rent spikes — is no longer acceptable.
Contrary to the condescending and racist rhetoric of the opposition, St. Paul voters are not ignorant. While the well-funded corporate opposition inundated voters with glossy mailers featuring vague threats and stock photography, the Keep St. Paul Home campaign had thousands of neighbor-to-neighbor conversations at doors, by phone and through text, thoughtfully engaging with and answering questions about the finer points of the policy.
Voters said yes because they understood the specifics and significance of this measure, which was carefully crafted to avoid the loopholes in rent stabilization policies in other cities that undermine the impact for renters. Including new construction was not an oversight — it was an intentional choice, based on housing-finance expertise, economic data and national research, to protect all renters.
The next-day doomsday reactions from developers are entirely predictable. But City Council members who publicly opposed the policy now have a clear mandate from their constituents — and the responsibility to find solutions that honor the will of the voters.
While decades of economic distress and displacement of struggling renter households has been met with little urgency, a few anecdotes of developers "pausing" their projects has made headlines and galvanized panic among city leadership. This despite the fact that the ordinance — and public conversation for months — makes clear that this policy is not a rent ceiling or rent freeze, meaning developers can set their rents at whatever level assures them of a reasonable return.
This is, indeed, a big moment for St. Paul. How we move forward with implementation, enforcement and potential amendments matters and should be guided by informed dialogue, real data and an unwavering commitment to honor the will of St. Paul voters. If developers can transparently document their need — as every low-income renter must to access rental assistance — let's make reasonable changes based on facts, not on knee-jerk reactions.
But let's not be afraid of the courageous and necessary change we've won, simply because it doesn't align with the demands of developers and landlords who spent $4.5 million to protect unlimited profits, rather than investing those desperately needed resources into solutions to our affordable-housing crisis.
For neighbors in Minneapolis and tenants across the country, St. Paul has the opportunity and obligation to lead. We have taken bold steps in the past and now we have more than 30,000 voters directing the path. Voters have made it clear they stand ready to support action. Elected officials and staff must stay the course.
Elianne Farhat and Mai Chong Xiong are executive director and board chair, respectively, of TakeAction Minnesota.