Amid this ongoing pandemic, many existing societal issues have grown into full-blown crises for our neighbors in St. Paul and across the state – from health care access and environmental degradation to wealth inequality and systemic racism. An issue inextricably tied to these is a shortage of affordable and stable housing. The housing crisis did not start with the pandemic, nor will it end as we return to some sense of “normalcy.” There is no single solution to our regional housing shortage, but we know that renters are too often on the front lines of the crisis.
For all of us, home has become the most important place during this pandemic. But it is impossible to shelter at home if you lose access to your housing or are forced to find a new home with short notice, and that is a real risk for too many of our city’s renters. Renters make up half of St. Paul’s population – they are our neighbors, our friends, our teachers, nurses, and essential workers. It rings hollow to claim that “All Are Welcome Here” if any in our community are at risk of losing their homes. This threat falls especially hard on renters in communities of color and those who have been historically disadvantaged. We must ensure that our neighbors are not displaced from their neighborhoods; community stability and resiliency across St. Paul benefits us all.
Common-sense, long-overdue protections
With that goal in mind, the St. Paul City Council is currently considering a package of SAFE Tenant Protections (Stable, Accessible, Fair, and Equitable housing) that are both common-sense and long-overdue. The proposal consists of five main points:
1) a “just-cause” requirement, so that tenants cannot be forced to leave without due cause (they can still be evicted for 10 existing, legally allowed reasons);
2) provides clarified tenant screening criteria, which would eliminate some screening criteria that are shown to have little to no impact on renter reliability, but do cause a disproportionate impact on the ability of those with minor criminal offenses to get back on their feet and become stable community members;
3) caps security deposits at one month’s rent, which would help increase housing accessibility for many who might not have two to three months’ rent available, but can reliably pay their monthly rent;
4) requires a 90-day notice of sale so that tenants have adequate time to find new housing (especially important given our region’s lowest-in-the-nation vacancy rates) and also gives affordable housing providers time to buy and preserve naturally occurring affordable housing when it hits the market; and
5) requires landlords to provide a tenants’ rights and responsibilities document in electronic or print form.
These tenant protections seek to increase housing stability and accessibility for St. Paul’s renter population who may be at risk of undeservedly losing the shelter they currently have or who face unnecessary burdens when finding new housing. Just as there are legal protections for those that pay a mortgage to a bank, this city ordinance provides some much-needed clarity and protection for our city’s renters.
Will create a more balanced rental market
While the SAFE Tenant Protections ordinance will require some additional actions by landlords, overall it will also help create a more balanced rental market, where expectations and requirements are clear throughout the city. No longer will the exploitative actions of some landlords (at their tenant’s expense) give them an advantage over the majority of others who are already fair and honest. Instead, these clarified rights and responsibilities for both parties will promote community stability and fair practices across Saint Paul.
If you, too, are a St. Paul resident, we encourage you to support our community by letting your council member know you support this ordinance.
Karen Allen and Zack Mensinger are neighbors in the Hamline-Midway neighborhood of St. Paul; both are former St. Paul renters. Karen is currently a landlord; Zack is a professor at Metropolitan State University who too often sees the impacts of housing instability for his students.
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