A post-COVID housing crisis isn’t imminent, it’s here. One year into the pandemic, still-rampant unemployment and growing debt mean that families who have barely managed to scrape by are reaching a breaking point. Inadequate public assistance and poorly designed implementation systems for those resources has left rental households falling behind on monthly payments, putting upwards of 182,000 — or 10% — of Minnesota households at risk of losing their homes (Stout household survey report).
The eviction moratorium has worked to keep these Minnesotans in their homes, saving more than 2,000 lives and preventing more than 100,000 cases of COVID-19 (Poverty Law, U of M). Republican lawmakers are now threatening to end the moratorium before rental assistance has time to reach renter households. More than ever, we need more tools in our toolbox to stem the tide of evictions and homelessness to follow.
Vanessa Del Campo Chacon, a renter and single mother, lost most of her income at the start of the pandemic. “I think a lot of people don’t realize that we were already in a housing crisis before the pandemic hit us. And then when COVID-19 hit us, our communities were faced with having to choose between feeding our families or paying rent. This is unacceptable. Our elected officials have a responsibility to us, to ensure that thousands of us don’t lose our homes. We need real solutions immediately, and elected officials can start with policies like rent control to stabilize our homes,” said Del Campo Chacon.
While there have been efforts to expand affordable housing through various programs, policies and zoning, those won’t work on their own, nor will they work quickly enough. This spring, council members plan to introduce several crucial rental protections: charter amendments to allow for rent control, Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Agreement (TOPA), and eviction reforms. Together, this anti-displacement agenda increases the power of renters to determine their futures in an increasingly volatile market.
Renters: What could you accomplish if you knew your rent for next year?
Rent Control — meaning an annual percentage cap on rent increases — would more easily allow working families to financially plan for their future. A strong policy would tie annual increases to inflation, apply to all rental properties and include resources for city enforcement. In Minneapolis, a household earning $50,000 can afford only 20% of available apartments, yet 42% of households earn that much. Rent control corrects corporate investors’ overvaluation of housing by limiting skyrocketing rents while development catches up to our city’s high level of need. Contrary to the false narrative pushed by corporate developers, landlords in rent-stabilized cities still build new housing stock and turn a profit.
Renters: If your building goes up for sale, what do you want to happen?
Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Agreement would allow us to protect our neighborhoods from rampant gentrification and advance community ownership. A strong TOPA policy would give all renters — including those in single-family homes and public housing — the first right to purchase their building when it goes for sale, or transfer that right to a buyer of their choosing. Too often, our neighbors are displaced when homes are sold to new owners who raise rents, re-screen or simply evict tenants. Fortunately, we’ve already seen how TOPA can be used effectively: Tenants organized with Inquilinxs Unidxs to purchase five buildings in the Corcoran neighborhood from their former landlord, Steve Frenz. Through this purchase, the residents of the five buildings stopped their evictions and now operate their homes as the Sky Without Limits Cooperative.
Pandemic economic conditions are prime for a repeat of the 2008 housing crisis, during which smaller landlords and foreclosures were bought out by large corporations. This is already beginning on the north side, where Pretium Partners LLC (an investment management firm) acquired more than 100 homes from Havenbrook Homes, a company that snatched up foreclosed homes during the 2008 housing crisis. A strong TOPA policy can disrupt this cycle of extraction.
Renters: What rights would you advocate for if you knew you couldn’t be evicted without just cause? What could you do to protect yourself against eviction if you were notified before your landlord files in court?
Right now, landlords in Minneapolis can refuse tenants the opportunity to renew their lease for no reason at all. They also don’t have to give any notice before filing an eviction in court, meaning a household’s stability could be upended on a dime. With Just Cause, landlords could only evict a tenant or choose not to renew a lease for reasons prescribed by the city, such as non-payment of rent or lease violations, which creates a strong protection against arbitrary or retaliatory displacement. With a pre-eviction filing notice, renters would have a 30-day notice period in which to protect themselves from eviction by catching up on rent, accessing legal services, or remedying their lease violation.
Though each ordinance provides valuable renter protections on its own, their interrelationship creates the strongest anti-displacement measure. Just cause for eviction means landlords can’t kick renters out to get around rent control or TOPA. Likewise, rent control and TOPA strengthen just cause by preventing informal evictions that occur through rent hikes or when homes sell to new owners. The entire anti-displacement agenda must be moved forward.
Tikki Cross, a renter living on the north side and renting from Havenbrook Homes (recently purchased by Pretium Partners), has struggled with rent increases and repair issues for years, saying: “This keeps happening, on the north side we know it well. My heat broke and my landlord didn’t fix it for almost a month, and now supposedly I have a new landlord and nobody even told me. And on top of all of that, they are trying to raise my rent now too. This is unacceptable, something needs to change now.”
When renters are empowered to determine their futures, we all win. Stable communities are safe, healthy, vibrant communities. As members of Inquilinxs Unidxs Por Justicia/United Renters For Justice, The Alliance For Metropolitan Stability, Jewish Community Action and HOME Line, we’ve seen firsthand the devastating impact of the pandemic on Minneapolis renters and its disproportionate effects on Black, Indigenous, and other renters of color. Following a year that also brought systemic racism to the fore, Minneapolis now has the chance to stand behind its communities of color in the streets and at home.
Arianna Feldman is a communications organizer with Inquilinxs Unidxs Por Justicia/United Renters For Justice. Tram Hoang is a policy advocate with The Alliance for Metropolitan Stability. Erin West is a tenant organizer with HOME Line.
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