Mayor Melvin Carter wants to change St. Paul’s strict rent control policy

St. Paul’s Mayor Melvin Carter has expressed some concerns regarding the city’s rent control proposal even before it was passed. Specifically, he noted that the proposal was too strict and that while he supported adopting rent control, he would work to change it once the rule was voted in.

Considering that the St. Paul City Charter doesn’t allow changes to ballots, at least until after a year, it is hard to say whether he didn’t think the ballot had a chance of passing or whether he was too optimistic about his ability to change it.

In a sit-down with the Star Tribune, St. Paul Mayor doubled down on those efforts and continued to push for amendments to the policy. Specifically, he wants the rent control law to exempt new construction. This comes after numerous projects have been paused since the passage of the ordinance.

Q: I’m going to move on to rent control. You announced your support for this activist-led movement about three weeks before Election Day, saying the policy needs some tweaking. Can you talk about how and why you arrived at the decision to speak out in favor of the ordinance?

A: The first thing I have to note is that if this is a law that cannot be amended, it’s probably the first one in American history. … The whole point of governance by the people, for the people is that our social contracts are all constantly evolving. … All I have to say is this: We have developers who develop in the city who I sort of have to fight against, to give them money to build affordable housing. And where I landed was thinking I’m either going to oppose this ordinance with the promise that we’re going to do something better. … Or that I’m going to support this ordinance with the promise that I’m going to push to change it quickly. And the magnitude of the housing crisis that we face did not seem to justify a wait-and-see approach.

Q: Some residents have said they’re starting to feel the impacts — developers pausing projects, renters starting to see preemptive hikes in their bills. Do you think the policy will work as intended?

A: By state law, it can only be passed by the voters. So passing it a different way wasn’t really possible. Had I drafted it on the front end, it would be fundamentally different. And I’m hoping to work with the City Council to help craft a policy that actually advances what I’ve heard the [council] say their goals for the policy are. We can advance an exemption for new housing construction in a way that will take all of those projects off of pause and help them move forward, and immediately address one of the core concerns that we heard. … And while I know that all of us, myself included, would love to have had all of the answers the day after the vote passed, working through all of those details is going to take longer.

This is what American Experiment warned would happen if St. Paul enacted such a strict policy.

A lesson for Minneapolis

Whether the St. Paul City Council will manage to make changes to the city’s rent control policy is yet to be seen. But this should be a lesson to Minneapolis City Council members who want to go down the same path.

The best way to address a shortage of affordable housing is to remove obstacles that prevent housing construction. This includes things like excessive permit fees, land use regulations, zoning laws, and energy conservation rules, among others.

As can be seen in St. Paul, rent control will only prevent housing from being constructed in Minneapolis.