The Potluck

Rent control ban passes Senate committee; lawmaker says Minneapolis is on path to ‘self-destruction’

By: - March 2, 2021 12:06 pm

Photo by Will Jacott/Minnesota Reformer.

A state ban on rent control passed out of the Senate Local Government Policy Committee on a voice vote Tuesday with Democratic-Farmer-Labor members calling for the Legislature to respect local control, while Republican members saying Minneapolis must be stopped from “self-destruction.”

The move comes as the Minneapolis City Council pushes forward with a proposal to put the issue before voters on the November ballot. Under state law, cities may only enact rent control if approved by a majority of voters in a general election.

The bill is authored by Sen. Rich Draheim, R-Madison Lake, who chairs the Senate Housing Finance and Policy Committee and is also a real estate broker and former landlord. He argued that rent control discourages developers from building new units and leads property managers to forego repairs or convert apartments into condominiums.

A study conducted by the University of Minnesota’s Center for Urban and Regional Affairs and presented to the Minneapolis City Council on Tuesday disputes that rent control would inhibit development or reduce the quality of housing but did say apartments may be converted into condominiums.

Senate Democrats said it’s up to Minneapolis voters to decide for themselves and accused Republicans of wasting time by overriding Minneapolis leaders.

“We have a creepy fixation against Minneapolis this session,” said Sen. Karla Bigham, DFL-Cottage Grove, who is a former landlord. “I don’t know how to get around that other than continue to speak out that we have other issues than this fixation.”

Sen. Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, pushed back, saying the Senate was trying to save Minneapolis.

“The Senate (is) trying to stop defunding the police, stop them from the self-destruction,” said Westrom, who owns rental properties. “We don’t want to see the city of Minneapolis implode, which is the pathway they’re on right now … Somebody’s got to stop them from ruining the city.”

Sen. Rich Draheim, R-Madison Lake, authored the bill banning cities from enacting rent control in Minnesota.

Sen. Steve Cwodzinski, DFL-Eden Prairie, invoked the 10th amendment, which says powers not explicitly given to the federal government are reserved for states “or to the people.”

The 10th Amendment is more often championed by Republicans who have historically positioned themselves as defending states’ rights over an over weaning federal government. It was also once frequently invoked by southern racists seeking to keep the federal government from enforcing civil rights legislation and judicial rulings, but Cwodzinski said it empowers cities like Minneapolis to experiment with policies like rent control.

“I believe the city of Minneapolis, if they want to choose to experiment on rent control, I see them as having a constitutional right to do it,” Cwodzinski said.

But Draheim countered that rent control infringes on people’s right to property.

“One of the building blocks of our country was on property rights,” Draheim said. “My grandpa, who immigrated from Germany, literally got chased off their farm by the government and they came to the United States. Why? For the path of owning property.”

Draheim said he would be open to allowing Minneapolis to enact rent control if they stopped receiving state funding to build affordable housing, an improbable proposition.

“I agree with you that Minneapolis should do what they want. But the caveat for me would be then they can’t come to us and ask for money for affordable housing. Because they’re creating their own problem,” Draheim said.

While Minnesota lawmakers are moving to ban rent control, other states have recently moved in the opposite direction and enacted it.

California instituted rent stabilization last year, which restricts landlords from increasing rent more than 5% plus the local rate of inflation each year. In Oregon, which approved rent stabilization in 2019, landlords are limited to raising rent no more than 7% per year plus the rate of inflation.

*This article originally misstated that Sen. Rich Draheim is a landlord. He is a former landlord.

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Max Nesterak
Max Nesterak

Max Nesterak is the deputy editor of the Reformer and reports on labor and housing. Previously, he was an associate producer for Minnesota Public Radio after a stint at NPR. He also co-founded the Behavioral Scientist and was a Fulbright Scholar to Berlin, Germany.