The Bemidji City Council this past week dealt with the second reading of a controversial ordinance putting a 1 year moratorium on the conversion of single family housing units to rental within the city. The public meeting drew a vocal crowd with 19 people addressing the council, 17 of them against the proposal. Many of those were real estate people along with real estate investors. Several articles have also appeared in secondary newspapers in town pushing the idea that this is simply government interference in private matters.
This situation has been building but is especially evident in Ward 1 where Bemidji State University is located. 50.4% of all housing in Ward 1 are rentals. The other 4 Wards vary from 10% to 20% rental housing. The proposal on the table would allow for individual “hardship” cases to be allowed to become rental and would only be in effect for 1 year but could be lifted at any time. During this time frame the city could evaluate the situation and how rentals affect Bemidji neighborhoods and possibly come up with some guidelines.
Our city is no different than many other college cities around Minnesota. I lived in St. Cloud for 6 years and heard and watched the struggles of the neighborhood next to St. Cloud State University. The parties, the parking, the flavor of the neighborhood, the lack of care of the rental units…all exactly the same concerns being expressed in Bemidji. Those against the proposal talk about taking away opportunities from college students, taking away liberties of property owners, the idea that investors rehabilitate and improve sub-standard housing, and the poor college kids have no where to go.
Personally, I don’t buy into any of this. The college has so much on campus housing not being used…its talking about tearing down dorms. Yes, dorms need to be rehabilitated and brought up to expectations of the current students, but to convert dorms to apartment’s takes State money…of which there is none now. So…lower the cost of staying on campus. The City should work with the University on options and enticements to get the kids to stay on campus. I do agree with those who say stricter enforcement of rental housing requirements should push homeowners into better management of their properties. (Rarely according to the Bemidji City Managers weekly newsletter does any rental inspection get flagged). I also do not buy into the argument that investors pump money into rental housing upgrading and rehabilitating sub standard housing. Most rental units I see are in dire need of repair.
Attached are some articles regarding situations in Duluth and Winona, both college cities. These articles date back to 2005 and 2007. This is not a new situation and a solution should be looked into. I believe the ban should be for Ward 1 only, where one block has 80% density of rental to single family units. The City of St. Paul currently has a limit of 4 residents per rental in some areas of the city. Duluth’s idea is to ban a new rental with 300 feet of an existing rental. Winona’s proposal was to limit rental units to a maximum of 30% per block. With BSU bordering downtown, I think everyone can agree that some of the rental housing near the core city is downright close to the term “urban blight”. With much emphasis on revitalization of our downtown this is the right time to address this situation. If this proposal would zero in on ward 1 around BSU, I believe the idea is well thought out, buys some time, and allows for some exceptions. As the paper does not allow for comments, feel free to put your thoughts in on your experiences with college neighborhoods and rental housing.
As a sidenote: I see Minneapolis is investigating the idea of charging a service fee for streetlights. Mmmmm…I wonder where that idea came up???
Articles regarding rentals and college neighborhoods: