The following appeared in The Star Tribune on March 6, 2018. The original can be found here.
By: Miguel Otárola
The St. Louis Park City Council unanimously approved a policy Monday that would protect low-income tenants who become displaced when their housing is taken over by new owners.
Council members saw the policy as one in a series of measures the city can take to sustain its affordable housing.
“It’s not a finger in the dike, but it’s a small step,” Council Member Anne Mavity said. “It delays a problem for tenants in terms of their ability to find housing.”
If the council approves the second reading on April 16, the policy will take effect July 1.
Under the policy, tenants in buildings with at least 18 percent affordable housing would have three months to make new arrangements after ownership changes hands.
If a new owner raises rents, screens existing tenants or cancels leases without cause, they would have to provide relocation fees ranging from $2,600 for a tenant in a studio up to $4,100 for a tenant renting a three-bedroom unit or larger.
New owners also would have to inform tenants leasing affordable housing within 30 days about planned rent increases and whether leases would not be renewed.
About 51 percent of the rental units in St. Louis Park are affordable to those making 60 percent of the area median income, according to a city survey taken in 2016.
The relocation policy was one of several discussed last year by a work group that included advocates for low-income tenants and property managers. Members of the work group were unable to come to a consensus on any other strategies, according to city officials.
Aaron Berc, an organizer for Jewish Community Action and a member of the work group, pushed for more action at Monday’s meeting.
“It’s a really great first step for the city to take on housing issues,” Berc said Tuesday. “But it doesn’t stop displacement from their homes and it doesn’t preserve any affordable housing that’s still there. There’s more work to be done.”
Council Member Margaret Rog said she was concerned that the three-month period may not be enough time for some residents to find new housing and encouraged the council to review the cap at a later date.
St. Louis Park, like other west metro suburbs, was the site of a controversial housing complex sale when Meadowbrook Manor changed ownership in 2016. New lease agreements raised rents and set minimum income requirements, forcing many month-to-month renters to move.
Mayor Jake Spano said the policy, while a positive step, doesn’t address the crisis of affordable housing at its root.
“This is treating the symptom. We need to treat the illness,” he said.