Benanav pushes student housing ordinance

The proposed housing ordinances stem from an increase in university students living in his ward.

Hank Long

Inside Jay Benanav’s third-floor office at St. Paul’s City Hall is a Magic 8 Ball.

Benanav, who represents the St. Paul campus, joked that he uses the mock-prophetic object to help him solve the city’s problems.

But when it comes to the lack of success Benanav has seen when trying to solve student housing problems, consulting a Magic 8 Ball might not hurt for the third-term council member.

“I get more calls (from constituents) about student housing issues than anything else,” Benanav said.

He is trying to provide safe student housing while making sure permanent residents are not overwhelmed by the influx of student renters.

On Feb. 4, the St. Paul City Council will vote on Benanav’s proposed ordinance that would require landlords who rent to students to have a certificates of student housing. The city’s fire marshal would inspect houses and enforce the ordinance.

Last night, the Minnesota Student Association voted unanimously for a resolution opposing the ordinance.

Benanav said the string of housing ordinances he proposed in the last year stem from an increase in students living in his ward, which includes the University of St. Thomas and Hamline University. In the past 27 years, Benanav said, 6,000 more students attending St. Thomas live in the area.

“When you quadruple the number of students in an area that’s very residential, it obviously causes some concern,” he said.

But the housing ordinances will also impact University students who live near the St. Paul campus.

“We don’t want students to be unfairly singled out,” said Amanda Hutchings, legislative affairs chairwoman for MSA.

Hutchings said she is worried the Minneapolis City Council will pass similar ordinances if they pass in St. Paul.

Hutchings and other MSA representatives attended a public hearing in December to oppose some of Benanav’s proposals.

Benanav said that despite the challenges he has faced in other areas of his ward, he has not heard many concerns about student housing from St. Paul campus-area residents.

On other campuses where the problems have generated public outcry, Benanav has been a part of at least five community meetings involving students, neighbors, landlords, school officials and police.

“Having these meetings doesn’t mean that everybody will agree when it’s over,” he said, “but everyone has had the opportunity to shape the ordinance issue.”

Bill Cullen, a rental property owner and president of the St. Paul Association of Responsible Landlords, said although Benanav is trying to solve the student housing problems, he is not finding the right solutions.

Last March, Benanav proposed an ordinance that would have limited the number of student rental houses in an area. The proposal failed because of a lack of support.

Cullen said Benanav’s new proposal is discriminatory and will force student-rented houses to have different standards than other rental units.

“I respect Jay, but the recent measures he has taken are misdirected,” Cullen said.