Supporters of a rent stabilization ordinance rally outside of Minneapolis City Council chambers, as the council convenes to vote on a draft proposal.

The Minneapolis City Council voted two weeks ago to kill the chance of putting a rent control measure on the November general election ballot. 

The vote was controversial because three pro-rent control members—Aisha Chughtai, Jamal Osman, and Jeremiah Ellison—were absent from the meeting celebrating the Muslim holiday, Eid al-Adha.

Unresolved questions have been raised about how the council and city failed to plan around one of Islam’s biggest holidays. Other questions have also cropped up: What’s the city’s history with rent control, what happens next, and how will the public fallout from the vote affect this November’s election, when all 13 City Council members are up for reelection? 

Had Chughtai, Jamal, and Ellison voted on the measure at the June 28 City Council meeting, the process to move rent control  towards a possible ballot measure would have continued. 

That process would have included holding public hearings on a proposed ordinance that would be amended over time. The council would have then voted whether to approve a final version for the November ballot, allowing city voters to decide whether it should become law in Minneapolis. 

Pro-rent control Council Member Elliott Payne was upset by how the June meeting transpired. He noted that the vote was simply to allow the council to continue discussing the issue, not to approve a final ordinance.

“This wasn’t voting on a policy; this was voting on moving a policy to committee so we could negotiate,” he said. “There’s a lot of different policy elements that have been in conversation—things like rent banking, things like a new construction exemption—that we didn’t even get to discuss. We just killed the democratic process right then and there.” 

After the meeting, Chughtai, Jamal, and Ellison released public statements promising that they would continue to push for rent control in the near future. So, is rent control really dead this year? What happens now? 

What is rent control? 

Rent control is a government-imposed measure that limits how much landlords can increase rent each year. The goal is to keep living expenses affordable for low-income tenants.

Minneapolis voters approved a ballot measure in November 2021 to give the City Council and city leaders the authority to regulate rent on private property.

The city appointed 25 individuals to a working group that created a rent control policy framework. City staff created a report analyzing the costs of implementing rent control, and in April, recommended against it, arguing that a small percentage of renters would benefit and that it would decrease city revenue, among other issues. 

Rent control didn’t start to gain momentum until Council Members Aisha Chughtai and Jamal Osman introduced a motion in May, which passed in a 7-5 vote, to create a draft ordinance on rent control that could be presented to voters after first passing through additional City Council meetings. 

Advocates for rent control say it helps combat predatory landlords and keeps prices affordable. Meanwhile, critics say it can lead landlords to neglect their properties because they are not incentivized to improve conditions under rent limits, and can cause a decrease in housing development as investors fear earning less on rent, among other concerns.

Have past Minneapolis City Councils or mayors ever made a serious push for rent control?

Minneapolis city clerk staffers who spoke to Sahan Journal couldn’t think of a previous time when rent control was discussed in the City Council as seriously as this year. Neither could Iric Nathanson, a longtime Minneapolis historian.

“This is the first time it’s really been seriously considered,” Nathanson said.

That could be for a variety of reasons: rent prices have historically stayed cheaper in Minneapolis compared to cities on the east and west coasts, and city politics have grown more progressive in recent years. 

Minneapolis also has historically had more homeowners than renters. Renters didn’t make up more than 50 percent of the city’s population until the 2010s. Renter activism has grown  in prominence in recent years, fueling the discussion. 

“The new factor is the advocacy groups that were missing in the past,” Nathanson said. 

The City Council made incremental efforts on rent control leading up to the 2021 ballot measure, when voters gave them authority to tackle the issue. 

Those efforts included passing a renters’ law in 2019 that gave tenants some protections against eviction. The city’s online Legislative Information Management System, which lists all city legislation going back to about the mid-1990s, does not show serious action from city government on renter protections.

Did the Minneapolis City Council’s two votes on June 28 kill rent control? 

The council voted 6-4 at the June meeting not to refer a draft ordinance on rent control to the city’s Business, Inspections, Housing, and Zoning Committee, effectively stopping the process from moving forward.

It then voted 5-4 to send Chughtai and Jamal’s motion that passed in May back to committee, which means the two council members would have to introduce a “completely different” draft policy if they want to revisit rent control, according to Minneapolis City Clerk Casey Carl. 

The second vote essentially added an extra step to reviving rent control discussions on the council.

City Council members on all sides of the debate agree on one thing: the discussion on rent control is dead for the remainder of 2023. Chughtai, Jamal, and Ellison all acknowledged that in their joint public statement issued shortly after the June votes.

Carl has also said the issue cannot be reintroduced this year because the deadline to get it on the November ballot won’t allow enough time to re-vote on the measure in different meetings.

“We will miss the deadline to get it on the ballot this year,” Chughtai said in an interview last week. “So, from here we figure out how we move forward, and how that includes building with our communities and policymakers.” 

Who has consistently voted against and in favor of rent control? 

Council members who are in favor of rent control: 

  • Jason Chavez
  • Aisha Chughtai
  • Jeremiah Ellison
  • Council Member President Andrea Jenkins
  • Jamal Osman
  • Elliott Payne
  • Robin Wonsley

Council members who are against rent control:

  • Lisa Goodman
  • Emily Koski
  • Linea Palmisano
  • Michael Rainville
  • LaTrisha Vetaw

Council member who voted against rent control at the June meeting but says he would support it under different parameters that allow more flexibility:

  • Andrew Johnson

What’s next? 

Chughtai simply said, “More to come,” in response to this question. The soonest City Council members can attempt to get a rent control measure on the ballot is next year’s fall election. 

City Council Member Elliott Payne said voters can take another tack in addressing rent control —they can vote for pro-rent control candidates in the November 7 general election, when all Minneapolis City Council seats are up for grabs.

“What [rent control] supporters can do is see who’s committed to the policy and who’s not, and vote accordingly,” Payne said. 

All council members except for Johnson are running for reelection. Five council members who voted against rent control face challengers. Four of the pro-rent control council members face challengers, according to Axios.

Mayor Jacob Frey has promised to veto a rent control policy if the council votes through a final ordinance for voter approval. The council would need nine members to vote in favor of overriding his veto to save the measure. 

Katelyn Vue is the housing reporter for Sahan Journal. She graduated in May 2022 from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities. Prior to joining Sahan Journal, she was a metro reporting intern at the Star...

Joey Peters is a reporter for Sahan Journal. He has been a journalist for 15 years. Before joining Sahan Journal, he worked for close to a decade in New Mexico, where his reporting prompted the resignation...