Decades of disinvestment, racially discriminatory housing policy, and exclusionary practices have created a crisis for renters in St. Paul, and it’s only become worse because of the pandemic. But this spring, the city enacted much-needed local laws for rental housing that protect renters and will help reverse this trend. These new renter protections, called, S.A.F.E. (Stable, Accessible, Fair, and Equitable) Housing St. Paul, are a big step in supporting the 57,000 renter households who call St. Paul home.
S.A.F.E. Housing St. Paul was created by the community for the community. For more than a year, city staff worked with community members, landlords, renters, and housing experts to determine the most needed improvements for renters. Since last fall, we’ve served as members of the implementation committee charged with taking a new set of housing policies passed unanimously by the St. Paul City Council last summer, and making them into new rules that people can benefit from in the real world.
In a perfect world, these kinds of housing protections would be put in place at the state or federal level. But with little protections from state lawmakers or Congress in place, it makes sense that St. Paul stepped up to cement best practices already being utilized by leading landlords and offer those standards of living to all renters. No one should have to pay three times their rent for a security deposit on an apartment, for instance. But before these new renter protections were put in place, sky high security deposits and discriminatory screening practices were keeping people from accessing housing they desperately needed.
And as difficult as it can be to find a new home, imagine the panic and helplessness that can come over you when you finally find that new place to sleep at night only to be told the building has been sold and you may be forced to move again. Now, property owners need to give residents an advanced notice of when a building is going to be sold so they have time to prepare for such a dramatic change. And if they are forced to relocate, they can get assistance in that process. The economic fallout from the COVID crisis has only exacerbated these kinds of challenges. New renter protections like these for families trying to avoid homelessness could not have come soon enough.
Changing the way our housing system works is a dramatic shift for residents and property owners alike. But these S.A.F.E. Housing policies are both incredibly significant and also just a first step. Just making rental housing more stable and accessible can’t be the end goal. We need more investment from the state and federal government to help create more affordable housing so folks have a place to live. We need to help give folks more options to buy the homes they’re renting now or another home in the community so they can have a sense of ownership and build wealth.
But for now, we also just need folks in the community to spread the word about these new policies. New renter protections for families in our neighborhoods will only matter if folks know their new rights and if property owners know how to follow the new guidelines. A majority of St. Paul residents are now renters. Be sure to tell folks you know to go to stpaul.gov/SAFE to learn more.
Alexis Kramer works at Freedom From The Streets, an organization that supports those experiencing homelessness or on the verge of homelessness. Richard McLemore II is the founder of McLemore Holdings, an African American culturally inclusive organization, focused on providing holistic professional development workshops, renter and home buying courses, wealth building, and healing circles. Both served on the City of St. Paul’s 18-member Tenant Protections Implementation Committee (TPIC).
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