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Low-income seniors ask lawmakers to change rent control calculations

Senior citizens living on fixed incomes in subsidized housing told the House Housing Finance and Policy Committee Tuesday they are being priced out of their apartments.

“Today I would not have the income to move into my building,” said Lugene Flores, a member of the Minnesota Tenants Coalition who lives in 55+ housing in Spring Lake Park. She said her Social Security cost of living adjustment increased by $107 a month in the past four years, but her rent rose by $317 a month. 

Flores testified in favor of HF3350, sponsored by Rep. Zack Stephenson (DFL-Coon Rapids), which would change the formula by which rental increases are calculated for multifamily housing developments that receive a federal low-income house tax credit. In exchange for the tax credit, developers agree to designate a certain percentage of units for low-income tenants.

As amended, the bill was laid over for possible inclusion in a larger committee bill.

Landlords now base rental increases on the area median income, which is based on working people’s wages, Stephenson said. “The problem for senior citizens is their income does not increase.”

“Are we not worthy of a decent home in a safe neighborhood?” said Char Golgart, a tenant of River North Apartments in Coon Rapids. Her rent was $1,064 in December 2016 and is now $1,544, she added, and therefore cannot afford an in-garage parking spot or cable television.

The St. Paul Chamber of Commerce and several entities operating income-qualified apartments provided written opposition to the bill. This included Ecumen, CommonBond Communities, MWF Properties, and Sherman Associates.

Cecil Smith, president and CEO of the Minnesota Multi Housing Association, said the bill could lead to “broader avoidance and divestment” on the part of property owners at a time when Minnesota is experiencing a housing crisis.

Several committee members opposed the bill. For example, Rep. Jim Nash (R-Waconia) said it could affect maintenance at relevant properties.

“This is set up to fail in the rental control world,” he said.

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