City policy could help displaced renters find new homes

The ordinance, introduced last week, would provide financial assistance to tenants displaced at no fault of their own.

Illustrated+by+Morgan+La+Casse

Morgan La Casse

Illustrated by Morgan La Casse

Mohamed Ibrahim

The City of Minneapolis may soon financially support displaced tenants while they search for new housing.

Authored by Ward 4 City Council member Phillipe Cunningham, the ordinance would give the city a role in helping displaced renters find new housing. City officials and tenant advocates say the policy will add to the “toolbox” of the renters’ protection measures.

Under the policy, introduced to the City Council last week, the city would provide three months’ rent to tenants who are displaced if their building’s rental dwelling license is revoked or the building is condemned at no fault of their own. Tenants would receive financial assistance the day they are ordered to vacate or within seven days after the action is final, whichever is sooner.

Cunningham said the City Council “languishes” over revoking rental licenses because while property owners are held accountable, tenants lose their housing in the process.

“This is just to ensure that as much as possible we are providing vulnerable renters with the kind of safety net that’s needed in order to get them out of unsafe [and] unsanitary housing, and into housing with dignity,” Cunningham said. 

Eric Hauge, executive director of Minneapolis tenant advocacy group HOME Line, said the organization often hears from clients who are fearful of being displaced if they report issues with the property. The policy will help vulnerable renters report their landlords without fear of retaliation or displacement.

“Not everybody is in an equal position — the power imbalance in the tenant-landlord relationship is deeply weighted in one direction,” Hauge said. “Simply because they’re concerned about their housing stability doesn’t mean that should have an impact on the conditions that they’re living in.”

Bill Dane, a senior staff attorney for the University of Minnesota’s Student Legal Service, said while their office does not see many cases of student displacement due to landlords’ rental licenses being revoked, they regularly assist students who were displaced for other reasons. 

A prominent example, Dane said, was when Prime Place apartments, rebranded as The Arrow, failed to complete construction on time in 2017, leaving more than 200 students without housing.

“We take a lot of pride in the fact that no students were left homeless in that circumstance,” he said in an email.

Hauge said the ordinance is a good first step and another tool for renters, but it should be expanded to include all types of displacement, including eviction and development. While the policy would cover the rent, it is not sufficient to pay for all other costs associated with finding a new home, he said.

“It’s costly to get a new security deposit, first month’s rent, application costs and fees, and transportation to get around and find a place,” Hauge said. “It can add up to way more than three months when you’re facing displacement due to no fault of your own.”

The ordinance will make its way to the City Council’s Economic Development and Regulatory Services committee on Dec. 3, where it will receive public input. The policy will then go before the City Council on Dec. 13 and take effect in June 2020, if approved.