Guest column

Why I’m voting yes for rent stabilization

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Like all parents, I wanted better for my children. When I was growing up, I was always the new kid. Because of my dad’s job, my family had moved seven times across five different states by the time I was 12 years old. I didn’t know what it was like to feel a sense of home and belonging in my community.
Because my husband and I were able to buy a home in 2002, my daughter and son have had a dramatically different childhood. They’ve grown up with the other kids on our block and seen the big and small ways we genuinely care for our neighbors. For nearly 20 years, we’ve been able to walk to our local library, revel in festive Halloween bonfires with longtime friends, and enjoy being a quick bus ride away from the State Fair. Our home has given our family a deep sense of connection and community in the Midway that I’m grateful for every single day.
That’s why, as a homeowner, I’m going to vote yes for rent stabilization on Nov. 2. Whether we rent or own our homes, everyone in St. Paul should have a chance to put down roots in our neighborhoods. With more than 50 percent of households in St. Paul renting their homes, we ALL benefit when our neighbors and friends, our family members and essential workers can plan for and invest in our collective future together. It’s time to set common sense rules for property owners that allow for a reasonable return on their investment but prohibit egregious rent hikes that push people out of their homes.
Like so many other White people, I’ve committed to learning more in recent years about the systems and policies that have benefitted my family, while undermining and exploiting communities of color. I now understand that it’s not an accident that in St. Paul, 82% of Black households are renters compared to only 39% of White households. I recognize how pushing Indigenous communities from their lands and enacting policies that explicitly prohibited people of color from homeownership, while subsidizing White people to buy property, is directly tied to our current housing crisis. I see how the predatory practices of corporate landlords who spike housing costs without cause is a continuation of this violence and exclusion — and how voting yes for rent stabilization is a significant step I can take for racial equity.
Many of us have already received deceptive mailers from the big landlord lobby, who are using misinformation to try to confuse and divide us. I believe we won’t be fooled by their crass stock photography and blatant self-interested scare tactics. The truth is that the policy on the ballot in St. Paul has been informed by decades of on-the-ground organizing with renters across the city, deeply researched by housing experts to address any unintended consequences, and tailored specifically for our city. Dozens of respected community organizations have endorsed the campaign and more than 9,000 fellow voters signed a petition to put it on the ballot this November. Personally, I trust my neighbors and community leaders more than the Minnesota Multi-Housing Association, which is being bankrolled by national real estate interests to undermine our local decision making – national real estate interests that were responsible for promoting deeply harmful policies such as racially restrictive housing covenants only a few generations ago.
I also remember being a renter myself and being powerless against the whims of property owners. When I was in graduate school and just barely making ends meet, one of my landlords raised my rent precipitously because she said the interest rate on her student loan had changed. While I had to abide by the rules of my lease, landlords had — and still have — no guardrails against raising their rents by hundreds of dollars for no reason at all.
In St. Paul, though, we care about our neighbors. When I moved here in 1996, I was able to find affordable apartments with predictable, reasonable rents that allowed me and my husband to save for the down payment on our house. I was able to make — and keep — St. Paul home.
That sense of home has pushed me to join together with fellow St. Paulites to continue to make our city a stronger, more inclusive and vibrant place. Because I call the Midway home, I organized with my neighbors to keep the Hamline Midway Library open, joined with other volunteers to support unhoused neighbors living in area parks during the height of the pandemic, and currently volunteer to offer restorative justice circles for youth and adults in our community. Through these activities, I see how essential stable housing is to basic public health, job stability, access to resources and education, and community safety.
I know that voting yes for rent stabilization won’t solve our housing crisis. But putting an end to unfair rent spikes that are pushing our neighbors out of their homes is an absolutely essential piece of the complex puzzle — and one that we all can take action on now. By simply going to the ballot box on November 2, we can ensure that our city is a leader for housing stability and racial equity. I hope you’ll join me.
Learn more about Housing Equity Now St. Paul (HENS) at http://thealliancetc.org/housing-equity-now-st-paul-hens/.

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