More than a month after St. Paul voters approved a rent-control ordinance, City Council members say they're still not sure how the policy will work — and that the mayor's office has failed to answer their questions.
After repeatedly asking for more details about the city's plans to enact and enforce the new measure, the council asked for an update Wednesday from Daniel Yang, Mayor Melvin Carter's senior policy adviser charged with overseeing its rollout. But in an e-mail sent less than two hours before the council's last meeting of the year, Yang said he would not be available to answer their questions and attached a letter from Deputy Mayor Jaime Tincher summarizing previous updates on the ordinance.
"I find it really disappointing and disrespectful, frankly, that we request the presence of folks to come speak to us at this meeting and then are informed hours before the meeting that that won't be happening," Council Member Rebecca Noecker said.
The new policy, which caps annual rent increases at 3%, has been called the most stringent of its kind in the nation. It is not tied to inflation, does not exempt new construction and does not allow landlords to raise rents by more than 3% when a tenant moves out.
At the council's Dec. 8 meeting, Yang said the city is working to convene a group of citizen stakeholders "in the coming weeks" to make recommendations on how to improve and enhance the ordinance, which is scheduled to take effect in May.
City staff will focus on "needs around definitions, rules, market analysis, staffing, budget considerations, monitoring and evaluation, and the possibility of self-certification," Yang said.
Carter has said he plans to ask the council to exempt new buildings from the ordinance after developers paused housing projects in response to the law. His administration is drafting an amendment to present to the council in the first quarter of 2022 and implemented by the end of next year, Yang said at the Dec. 8 meeting.
"I think that it is really curious that we cannot hear directly from the administration, especially when the solutions that they are publicly proposing require actions by this council," Council Member Jane Prince said Wednesday.
Peter Leggett, Carter's communication director, said in a statement Thursday: "We've provided an update to the Council each time they've requested one, including a detailed memo this week.
"We appreciate their attention to this matter, and hope they will address our housing shortage by acting to exempt new construction as soon as possible."
Council members said an array of constituents have contacted them with their concerns: Renters are facing substantial rent hikes as landlords scramble to bring rents up to market rate before May; developers are concerned about paused projects; and mom-and-pop property owners wonder if the mayor would grant them exemptions.
"We have been very patient. This ordinance passed almost two months ago now," Council Member Chris Tolbert said. "… I just would hope that work is actually happening."
Council members have asked that a web page be developed to answer questions about the ordinance, and they urged city officials to reply to e-mails and voice mails sent to designated rent-control hotlines.
"Our community, our stakeholders are looking for clarity and answers," Council President Amy Brendmoen said. "We don't need to give folks necessarily always the answers that they're looking for, but just an answer that clarifies a lot of confusion that's out there."