Landlords and property managers have raised nearly $4 million to fight rent control ballot initiatives in St. Paul and Minneapolis, vastly outraising and outspending supporters in the weeks leading up to Election Day.
The Sensible Housing Ballot Committee garnered $3.9 million in donations from landlords and property management companies and national organizations that represent landlords and Realtors, according to a campaign finance report filed in Ramsey County. By comparison, the Keep St. Paul Home committee — which supports a ballot measure that would cap annual rent increases in the capital city — raised about $213,000.
Contributions to the Sensible Housing Ballot Committee ranged from $50 from individuals to $750,000 from the Washington, D.C.-based National Association of Realtors, according to the report, which covers the period from Aug. 7 to Oct. 12. The committee is registered in both Ramsey and Hennepin counties but had only filed a report in Ramsey County as of Tuesday. It has spent nearly $3.6 million — largely on field work, literature, polling, phone calls and advertisements — and has about $325,000 in cash on hand, the report showed.
The committee, headed by Cecil Smith of the Minnesota Multi Housing Association, said in a statement that over 90% of its support comes from local labor and business partners who oppose rent control in St. Paul and Minneapolis.
"Those businesses are mainly comprised of small and large housing providers that all oppose rent control since it is the wrong solution for our housing challenges," the statement said.
While the Minneapolis ballot measure would allow the City Council to enact a rent control policy — the details of which have not been established — the St. Paul proposal would limit rent increases to 3% a year without exemptions for inflation or new construction.
Housing Equity Now St. Paul campaign manager Tram Hoang — whose organization wrote the St. Paul ballot measure — said she was not surprised to see the scale of donations to the opposition, including many donors not based in St. Paul.
"We know that across the country corporate landlords have a huge incentive to prevent any type of tenant protections from advancing," Hoang said.
Keep St. Paul Home has spent nearly $200,000 on mailers, Hulu advertisements and staff time and has less than $15,000 in cash on hand, according to its latest report. Its largest donations came from TakeAction Minnesota, which donated $100,000, and Faith in Minnesota, which donated about $20,000. Smaller donations ranging from $50 to a couple hundred dollars were largely from St. Paul residents. The committee also raised nearly $3,500 in donations under $50.
The campaign will continue to rely on word of mouth, door knocking, phone banking and other grassroots organizing to get rent control passed in St. Paul, Hoang said.
"We know that the local addresses mean that we are getting our support from the people in St. Paul," she said, "not the people who happen to own housing in St. Paul as investment properties, not people who have a motive to continue allowing landlords to increase rents to any possible amount."
Zoë Jackson • 612-673-7112 Twitter: @zoemjack