Council considers restrictions on condo conversions

While some argue that Minneapolis' condo conversion boom is slowing down, the City Council's debate on the issue - and how it affects affordable housing - is just beginning.

At a June 16 Council meeting, Councilmember Cam Gordon (2nd Ward) proposed that the city consider changing its laws on condo conversions. The Council voted to move the proposal to the Public Safety and Regulatory Services (PSRS) committee, which later voted to have staff conduct further studies on the issue.

Gordon said he became interested in presenting his proposal because he feels the city is not keeping enough track of the amount of conversions occurring. &#8220I don't think we really understand how big of a problem [the conversion boom] is,” he said. &#8220We should know about this.”

What Gordon proposed, while rough, highlighted several items he thinks the city should consider.

One is adding city preapproval to conversion projects. He said the city would benefit from being kept abreast of information like the price of a converted unit, and having the city keep a closer eye on projects could prevent buyers from getting stuck with a bad deal. &#8220We want to make sure there's some protections for the buyers,” Gordon said.

He said the city should also consider giving benefits to those forced to find a new place to live because their apartments are being converted.

While the proposal is still in the beginning stages of consideration, at least one councilmember already has concerns.

&#8220I'm very skeptical and wary of the city's ability to pay relocation benefits, to prohibit condo conversions, or to regulate them or preclude them,” Councilmember Paul Ostrow (1st Ward) said.

But Gordon said it's a critical issue, especially since a chunk of converted apartments went from being affordable to tenants earning less than 50 percent of the Metropolitan Median Income, to being beyond many people's price ranges.

It's exactly that issue that spurred the creation of the Minneapolis Affordable Housing Coalition (MAHC), which began after advocacy group HOME Line saw an increasing number of cases wherein formerly affordable housing evaporated as the result of conversions.

Since its inception in 2005, MAHC has lobbied for tenants' and buyers' rights. It succeeded at helping sway the City Council to pass stronger condo inspection regulations in December, and in May it helped convince the State Legislature to get rid of legislation preventing cities from regulating condo conversions.

MAHC approached Gordon to consider proposing the ordinance changes. According to a release from the coalition, Gordon has worked together with MAHC and councilmembers Gary Schiff (9th Ward) and Ralph Remington (10th Ward) to develop specific changes to the city's conversion ordinance.

Although the PSRS committee's decision to further study condo conversions will delay changes from going into effect earlier than the fall, representatives from MAHC said they were expecting the process to take that long. &#8220That's actually a good time frame for us,” MAHC spokeswoman Alyse Erman said.