Minneapolis 2040: Tenant Protections

This post is the second in a series that will take a deeper dive into the draft Minneapolis 2040 Comprehensive Plan. The city invites feedback on the plan until July 22nd. It is important that they hear input that supports N4MN’s goal of abundant, secure homes for everyone.

52.6% of Minneapolis rents. Nearly half of renters are cost-burdened, paying 30% or more of their income on housing. Only a quarter of homeowners are similarly cost-burdened. While 60% of white people in Minneapolis own their home, the vast majority of people of color rent, making them far more likely to be harmed by our current housing shortage. Since 2000, renters’ incomes decreased while their housing costs rose. According to the American Community Survey, the average area income for Minneapolis homeowners is $86,600, but only $36,718 for renters.

Renters tend to be people of color, while homeowners tend to be white. (Source)

Even in neighborhoods where renters are the majority, renters still have minority representation in neighborhood organizations and on the city council. For nearly a century, Minneapolis has financially and legislatively prioritized homeowners over renters, and landlords over tenants. It is time for change. Every person, especially renters, needs safe housing that does not get in the way of their success.

The city’s proposal

Policy 41 “tenant protections” outlines intended outcomes, including, “protect tenants’ rights, and improve living conditions in rental housing.” However, it lacks detail (some of these goals are related to the section on Housing Displacement, the subject of a future blog post). In this post, we offer suggestions to strengthen the city’s goals for protecting tenants, roughly following the action steps in the policy.

Secure and stable housing

The city should consider specific actions, such as:

  • Rent stabilization, capping yearly rent hikes to protect renters from extreme year-to-year increases. A UC Berkeley’s Terner Center analysis suggests capping at 5% per year plus inflation. The same study also suggested tax breaks to property owners for converting units to be affordable for people with limited incomes.
  • Address the high costs of rental application fees, which can add up when applying for multiple apartments. Two options include either a cap on rental application fees or setting up an application fee/background check clearinghouse where tenants would pay a one-time fee to be listed while searching for an apartment, and landlords would pay a fee to access the listing for a month. This one-stop clearinghouse would be hosted by a single 3rd party. This idea was originally suggested by Minneapolis Renters Coalition members.
  • Expand relocation fee assistance.
  • Require property owners to give advance notice of sale; as much as 6 months.
  • A “Right of First Refusal” policy such that when tenants get notice of sale, they have the option to buy the property. The same system could provide the city the option to buy and preserve the properties.
  • Provide guaranteed housing if tenants are displaced for redevelopment.

Note that there is some overlap between this and the policy section on Housing Displacement, which we’re reviewing in a separate post.

Access to tenant information

The city should…

  • Fund or produce publicly accessible, free, plain language and multilingual tenant resources. HOME Line currently maintains a list of resources and tenant information, however some resources are inaccessible and available only in PDFs. This information should be made accessible to people with mobile phones and screen-reader devices.
  • Create and maintain a publicly accessible, centralized list of services available to tenants (possibly also containing links to county programs).
  • Promote all rent subsidy programs that exist.
  • Create a reliable 311 experience for tenant questions.
  • Fund a city-wide media campaign to inform tenants of rights & services available.

Supporting tenant organizations

The city has funded neighborhood organizations since the early 1990s via the Neighborhood Revitalization Program. Their boards have traditionally underrepresented renters and overrepresented homeowners. As a result, most have focused their housing investments on the needs of homeowners rather than renters. These organizations have provided home renovation loans, but rarely provided services to tenants.

At the same time, there are pro-tenant organizations in Minneapolis offering support, advocating for tenants rights, and providing other vital services. Some groups that offer legal assistance fund a portion of their budgets through public contracts. Current levels of funding for these services aren’t enough, and are sometimes covered by grants or crowdfunding. And, other pro-tenant organizations are still needed.

More than half of Minneapolis residents are renters. As the City has invested in homeowner-dominated neighborhood organizations, it should also invest in organizations providing vital services to renters, including assistance navigating housing systems, building tenant capacity, and organizing around tenant issues.

While the city is in the midst of revising how neighborhood organizations are funded (“Neighborhoods 2020”), the city should also directly fund organizations that do tenant advocacy.

Reducing evictions

According to a recent City Council special session on housing stability:

  • Evictions disproportionately impact low-income and minority neighborhoods.
  • Half of renter households in North Minneapolis experienced an eviction filing in the past 3 years.
  • Two-thirds of these cases end with tenant displacement.

The city should:

  • Implement a “Just Cause” eviction policy. This provides landlords with a list of valid reasons to end a rental agreement, and prevents leases from being ended “at will”. Seattle has had this since 1980.
  • Provide lawyers to tenants facing eviction and other housing court cases, for free. You should have the right to an attorney if you’re facing the prospect of losing your home.
  • City and state labor policies should protect those appearing in housing court and include this in Safe & Sick Time. No one should have to worry about time off work to appear in court.

Outside of the Comp Plan, Ward 4 CM Phillipe Cunningham is directing the city to revise eviction ordinances, with an intent to stop “shadow evictions”. The plan will be presented this fall.

Expanding landlord participation in Section 8

Minneapolis recently approved a Section 8 non-discrimination law to expand landlord participation in Section 8, but this was struck down in court.

Many property owners do not accept Section 8 certificates or vouchers. A 2016 survey by HOME Line found that 57% of rental listings surveyed at the time were within the rent limits established by the voucher payment standard. Of the listing within the limit, only 23% of these responded that they would accept Section 8 vouchers.

Landlords, particularly for small ones, cite a lot of reasons for not accepting Section 8. For example, to rent to Section 8 tenants, units must be inspected by MPHA to verify that the housing meets health and quality standards. Units must be empty at the time of the inspection, and there are sometimes significant waiting periods for an inspection. On top of these delays, if there are any issues to be resolved, the unit must remain empty until the re-inspection is complete. In addition, initial program rent payments arrive only after passing the inspection. This means landlords lose significant rental income while waiting for inspections and reinspections. Since this program isn’t mandatory, many landlords choose not to accept Section 8 tenants.

To expand participation in Section 8, the city can:

  • Fund adequate staff to speed the MPHA inspection and re-inspection process
  • Streamline the rent disbursement process so that the initial Section 8 rent payment arrives at the start of the month
  • Create a Minneapolis rental subsidy alternative at the municipal level.

Housing maintenance, inspections, and health and safety

As part of these actions, the city should:

  • Provide more transparency about problem landlords by creating a portal to look up citation and inspection records by management companies and property owners. This would be accessible for free online, containing important public data like citations and inspection notes.
  • Vigorously enforce civil rights ordinances in rental housing. (see: housing discrimination against same-sex couples and trans people)
  • Fund additional housing inspections staff

Extra goals

In addition to the above proposals, the city should:

  • Implement less restrictive occupancy limits, and remove the double definition in both the zoning and building code. Clearly define or remove language defining a “family,” to reflect the many ways that people of all cultures live together.

What can I do to make this happen?

  1. Go to: https://minneapolis2040.com/policies/tenant-protections to comment on the policy we discussed in this post!
  2. Send this blog post to 3 friends and ask them to comment.
  3. Talk to your friends and family members (who live in Minneapolis) about why supporting housing for everyone is important, why the comp plan matters, and how to comment on it.
  4. Stay tuned for future posts and actions on the draft Comp Plan, and sign up for our mailing list!
  5. Attend the upcoming forums and events.

Tenant Resources

  • Inquilinxs Unidxs is organizing tenants in the worst housing situations in Minneapolis to work for dignified living spaces in Minneapolis.
  • Minneapolis Renters’ Coalition consists of representatives from neighborhood organizations, housing organizations and tenant organizations, working to instigate grassroots, policy and systems-level changes. Neighbors for More Neighbors participates as a member.
  • HOME Line provides free and low-cost legal assistance for tenants, and maintains a list of tenant resources.