Updated: February 20, 2020 06:40 PM
Despite a year-long review, a dozen public meetings and a growing number of calls for repeal, the city of St. Louis Park still has no plan on how to address a controversial housing ordinance first exposed by 5 INVESTIGATES.
That investigation in November 2018 revealed police were forcing landlords to evict people for suspected criminal activity under the city's crime-free, drug-free ordinance, even when they were never charged or, in some cases, accused of a crime.
Police and city officials have repeatedly defended enforcement of the ordinance as an effective tool to reduce crime.
However, weeks after that investigation aired, St. Louis Park City Council members passed a moratorium that indefinitely suspended enforcement of the ordinance and directed a workgroup to study the policy and its impacts.
Since then, opposition has steadily grown among renters, homeowners and housing advocates who say it is a discriminatory policy.
Earlier this month, the workgroup formally recommended that the city do away with the ordinance. In a presentation to the public, the group gave two options to do so: revise the ordinance to get rid of compulsory evictions or repeal it entirely.
Yet, a city spokesperson said a date "has not been set" for the council to take any formal action. The housing director, who has overseen the process, declined to be interviewed.
Research from the Shriver National Center on Poverty Law has shown an increase in the rollback of these types of ordinances in recent years.
But senior staff attorney Marie Clair Tran Leung says there is still a reluctance to get rid of the policies.
"We see a lot of municipalities that try to hold onto this idea that it's going to make their community safer, when really what we've seen it do is create a lot of instability," Leung said. "When you hinge these ordinances on public safety, there's a tendency to dig in and to really hold onto that fear that if you don't continue to have these ordinances that, somehow, your communities will be less safe," she said.
Leung said in her research, she found cities often aggressively enforce ordinances like this against racial and ethnic minorities, people with disabilities and even victims of crime.
Push for change intensifies
For more than a year, residents, renters and landlords have discussed and debated the city's crime-free, drug-free ordinance.
The result has been a groundswell of opposition to the policy that many claim is discriminatory in nature.
Jewish Community Action, a group that advocates for change on social justice issues, went door-to-door in the city over the summer, asking people about their thoughts on the policy.
"Many people we talked with right off the bat were opposed," said Jacob Kraus-Preminger, a community organizer with JCA. "I think this is something many people knew was going on because people were experiencing it for a long time."
Renter Kyle Whipple helped the group canvas. He said many people he spoke with didn't know many details about the ordinance until he showed up at their door.
"I would say a whole lot more people were in the camp of surprised about the ordinance," Whipple said, adding that many also remarked that it didn't seem like a good idea to have the police ordering landlords to evict tenants.
What comes next?
It's now up to the city council to decide what happens next.
The workgroup will present its findings to the city council during a work session in March, according to a city spokesperson. However, when asked about when the council would vote on final action, the spokesperson replied in an email that "a date has not been set."
No city officials would go on camera to defend the housing ordinance or respond to the widespread criticism that has been generated during the year-long review.
Instead, a spokesperson sent a statement that said city staff are "appreciative of the time and careful attention the work group has devoted" to looking into the ordinance.
The statement went on to say, "we want to respect the ongoing process."
Updated: February 20, 2020 06:40 PM
Published: February 20, 2020 02:03 PM
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