Landlords, housing advocates reflect on repeal of controversial housing ordinance in St. Louis Park

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Nearly a decade before Monday’s vote to repeal a controversial housing policy in St. Louis Park, Michael and Debra Javinsky Wenzek sued the city in an effort to challenge a system that they suspected was negatively impacting renters.

Police forced the landlords to evict their long-time tenants, over a small amount of marijuana. Officials said the renters violated the city’s crime-free, drug-free ordinance.

“We were sort of blindsided by it,” said Michael Javinsky-Wenzek. “We felt that it just was not right.”

The policy was put in place in 2008 under the rental housing ordinance. City officials defended its use, arguing the police oversight was intended to keep the community safe.

But 5 INVESTIGATES found people who were never convicted or even charged with a crime had lost their homes and the stability in their lives.

Evicted before convicted: St. Louis Park police order landlords to force people from their homes

“We were dealing with a systemic problem and I think that is what came out of your {story},” Javinsky-Wenzek said.

In December 2018, weeks after 5 INVESTIGATES aired its first story, the St. Louis Park city council voted to suspend enforcement of the ordinance and appointed a workgroup of residents, renters and landlords to study the crime-free, drug-free policy and its impacts.

Earlier this year, that group recommended the city council repeal the ordinance, citing growing concerns over its impacts.

Leaders acted on those recommendations Monday, voting unanimously to repeal the crime-free, drug-free language from the ordinance.

“This is a long time coming,” said council member Anne Mavity, who supported a full repeal of the policy from the beginning. “I think we are ever closer to where we should be in terms of really separating out policing and housing.”

People who are renters are the same as people who own their own home and it’s unjust to treat them differently,” said Debra Javinsky-Wenzek.

The couple said seeing the council repeal the ordinance earlier this week was a vindication of the fight they started nearly a decade ago, but could not win.

“To me, it means that the system works,” Michael Javinsky-Wenzek said.

Housing advocates, who have watched the process in St. Louis Park, believe other cities will follow suite soon.

Eric Hauge, executive director of HOME Line, said he’s heard more conversations in the last three months about relationship between police and renters.

“I think a lot of people are taking a step back… and really trying to take a look at where do the police touch our lives and should they really be in these positions,” Hauge said.

Robbinsdale is one example of where those conversations are happening, he said.

Members of that city’s Human Rights Commission recently requested the council put a moratorium on the enforcement of evictions that are related to the Crime Free Housing and Nuisance ordinances.

The Javinsky-Wenzek’s want to see what happened in St. Louis Park happen in other cities in Minnesota.

“It hopefully starts here and spreads so that those kinds of ordinances go away,” Debra Javinsky-Wenzek said.