Oppose Amendments that Undermine St. Paul Tenant Protections

Tomorrow, St. Paul City Council will discuss and vote on amendments to the S.A.F.E. Housing ordinance. While some amendments strengthen the protections for tenants, there are some amendments that will gut the protections and significantly weaken them. 

If you live in St. Paul, tell your councilmember (emails and numbers below) by 3 p.m. on Wednesday to OPPOSE the following amendments:

  • Delayed implementation
  • Exemptions for federally subsidized units, like Section 8 vouchers

There is an amendment to delay implementation of the ordinance for properties with fewer than 5 units. This means that all renters living in a single-family home, duplex, triplex, or 4-plex won’t be protected by the ordinance until July 2021. 

Why punish renters who live in smaller buildings by withholding protections from them? There are huge racial equity implications to this amendment. Our most racially and socioeconomically diverse neighborhoods are also home to many single-family rentals and buildings with fewer units (think Frogtown, West Side). This amendment seeks to target units, but its actual impact is on people, specifically renter households of color and low-wealth renters. 

Why delay implementation of such critical tenant protections? We understand that the city has been backed up responding to COVID, but governments are equipped to handle pandemics — not people. COVID and its economic impacts have devastated our communities, especially communities of color and low-wage workers who are more likely to work in sectors experiencing the most unemployment. 

COVID is hurting peoples’ rental histories and credit scores, which are the exact same measures that are used to screen tenants. Take rental history – many renters are behind on rent due to lost wages. When the eviction moratorium lifts, they will get evicted for non-payment of rent. Recent evictions significantly decrease the chance of accessing housing.

Take credit history. People have been paying rent first so their families can stay housed, and that can mean deferring car and credit card payments. Furthermore, many people are putting rent on their credit card, and the debt is accumulating. Every step that people are taking to stay housed during this pandemic is having detrimental effects on their future screening criteria. We need the protections NOW. Waiting until January is long enough, we can’t delay any further. 

Another amendment City Council has proposed is exempting housing units that are owned, operated, or subsidized by federal government programs. We agree that exempting housing units that are owned and operated by federal government programs makes sense, because that means exempting public housing units which already have strong tenant protections and screening guidelines. 

However, we cannot exempt units that are just subsidized by government programs. This would exempt thousands of units that are supported by federal funding, but do not require any additional protections. We know from renter stories that federal subsidy does not mean increased protections. Many renters who use Section 8 vouchers and live in federally subsidized buildings face housing discrimination and unfair treatment  

We need to ensure that all subsidized units still follow the S.A.F.E. Housing ordinance, including units that accept Section 8 vouchers and Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) buildings. 

Before 3 p.m. tomorrow, tell your councilmember to OPPOSE the following amendments:

  • Delayed and staggered implementation
  • Exemptions for federally subsidized units, like Section 8 vouchers

Councilmember contacts

Ward 1 – Councilmember Dai Thao

Ward 2 – Councilmember Rebecca Noecker

Ward 3 – Councilmember Chris Tolbert

Ward 4 – Councilmember Mitra Jalali

Ward 5 – Council President Amy Brendmoen

Ward 6 – Councilmember Nelsie Yang

Ward 7 – Councilmember Jane Prince