Minneapolis councilors to propose charter amendments for new public safety department, rent stabilization

The Council members are "giving notice" of their intentions to introduce these charter amendments at Friday's City Council meeting.
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Minneapolis City Hall

Minneapolis residents may have several questions to answer on the November 2021 ballot. 

Minneapolis City Council members are working on three different charter amendments that could be put to voters later this year. Two would deal with rent stabilization and eviction protections and the other would replace the Minneapolis Police Department. 

Council members will "give notice" of their intent to introduce these proposals during the Minneapolis City Council's 9:30 a.m. meeting on Friday, Jan. 15, starting the process of getting the proposed ordinances on the Nov. 2, 2021, municipal ballot. 

Replacing the police department

Minneapolis City Council members Phillipe Cunningham, Steve Fletcher, and Jeremy Schroeder plan to "give notice" of their intent to introduce an ordinance that would create a new department to provide public safety services in Minneapolis, including law enforcement, according to Friday's City Council agenda.

It would also remove the Minneapolis Police Department as a standalone department in the city's charter.

No other details about the proposed ordinance or what public safety services would look like if approved were included in the documents. 

Because this ordinance would amend the City of Minneapolis' charter, voters in Minneapolis would have to approve the ordinance via a ballot measure with at least 51% of the vote. 

Giving notice, as the three Council members are scheduled to do during Friday's meeting, is the first step in the process. Before it can be a question on the Nov. 2 ballot, the City Council must approve the proposed ordinance and then the Minneapolis Charter Commission, which has 15 members who are appointed by the court, must approve it. 

A similar charter amendment was proposed last year after the police killing of George Floyd on May 25, 2020. Five City Council members proposed creating a new public safety department, which would have had a director that's appointed by the mayor and approved by the City Council.

The proposal got to the Charter Commission, but the commission voted to take more time to review it, so the proposal missed the cutoff date for it to be included on the November 2020 ballot in Minneapolis. 

The Charter Commission voted down another public safety-related proposal, which would have removed the city's requirement to maintain a minimum staffing level in the Minneapolis Police Department based on the city's population.

A July 2020 poll of registered voters in Minneapolis found the majority support major changes to policing, including the potential dismantling of the city's police department.

Rent stabilization and eviction protections

Minneapolis Council members Cam Gordon, Jeremiah Ellison and Council President Lisa Bender plan to introduce two ordinances to help renters in Minneapolis, who have no protections from large rent increases or evictions/non-renewals, a news release says. 

“More than half of the people in Minneapolis rent their homes,” Bender said in a news release, “and almost none have protection from eviction or abrupt, large rent increases. I have seen too many families lose their homes to eviction or displacement, we need to use every tool we have under state law to prevent eviction and stop unlimited price gouging by landlords.”

One proposed ordinance/charter amendment would create protections for renters, including a just cause eviction provision that would require landlords to notify tenants in writing of the reason their lease isn't being renewed or why they're being evicted. 

The ordinance would establish a limited number of valid reasons for eviction or nonrenewal, including nonpayment of rent, breach of lease, or changes to the use of the property. This is something the City of St. Paul recently passed. 

The other protection would require landlords to give tenants notice that they intend to file an eviction prior to them filing the paperwork. Currently, landlords/property owners can file a formal eviction without giving any prior notice to the renter. 

St. Louis Park recently required pre-eviction notification. 

Gordon, Ellison and Bender's second proposed ordinance/charter amendment aims to protect renters from skyrocketing rent payments – many of which are increasing faster than tenants' incomes, making it difficult for many to pay rent. 

In order for a city in Minnesota to stabilize rent, the city must get authorization from voters via a ballot question, state law says. 

But Minneapolis doesn't have a process for putting such a question before voters besides proposing an amendment to the City Charter. The Council members don't think the charter is the right place for specific policy language, so they're proposing to create a process in the City Charter that would allow the City Council or the people of Minneapolis via a petition process to enact rent stabilization. 

That's what the proposed ordinance would do – create a process to adopt rent stabilization – it would not, on its own, create a rent stabilization ordinance. 

“These Charter amendments are just a first step,” Gordon said in a statement. “When we succeed in putting them on the ballot this fall and when passed by Minneapolis voters, they will enable a future conversation about enacting rent stabilization, to protect the most vulnerable residents of our city from being displaced from their homes.”

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According to the Council members, 180 jurisdictions and the states of California and Colorado all have rent stabilization policies to protect renters. 

“As it stands, landlords can raise the rent as much as they want, without providing justification,” Ellison said. “The Council has passed a number of housing measures in recent years to increase access and prevent displacement, but our neighbors are still losing their homes because they simply cannot keep up with the rent."

These proposals could help a lot of Minneapolis residents, the councilors say. Half of Minneapolis residents rent their homes, and 60% of those people earn less than the area median income based on pre-COVID-19 data.

Three-quarters of those families spend more than 30% of their income on housing. Spending that much on housing makes it difficult for people to afford basic needs and puts them at risk of homelessness. 

The rent stabilization and eviction protection ordinances, like the proposed public safety ordinance, would amend the city charter. Gordon, Ellison and Bender will "give notice" of their intent to introduce these ordinances on Friday, marking the first step in the city's approval process before the measures can be put on the November ballot. 

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