Mapping Renters and Owners in Central Saint Paul

If you ever attend a neighborhood meeting in Saint Paul (or probably any city), you’re likely to hear a lot about the perceived or actual animosity of homeowners against renters. For example, in my own neighborhood in the North End, a recent meeting drew some audible expressions of surprise when someone quoted the statistic that well more than half of the neighborhood’s homes and apartments are rented and not owner-occupied, one of the highest percentages in the city. This, however, made me wonder: what do these numbers actually look like?

To try and visualize these numbers, I took the data on residential properties in Ramsey County and colored them by whether they were homestead (owner-occupied) or non-homestead. This is the result:

Homestead status in Saint Paul. Click to zoom.

Homestead status in Saint Paul. Click to zoom.

Blue = homestead (owner-occupied)
Red = non-homestead (non-owner-occupied), also condo
Yellow = Mixed (usually duplexes)

First, a caveat. This dataset doesn’t distinguish condo buildings (many owner-occupied) from rented apartment buildings, so that a number of neighborhoods in wealthier parts of the city (especially downtown and the area between St. Clair and I-94) are much redder than they would otherwise be. Even with that caveat, however, some trends are immediately visible. Red properties are clustered especially in the areas nearest downtown, along major transportation corridors, and near certain colleges and universities. In general, this is as expected. But some more interesting traits become visible if we zoom in.

Dayton's Bluff

Dayton’s Bluff

Dayton’s Bluff is another high-renter area, and rental properties are scattered fairly evenly throughout the older part of the city. One place this proves abruptly untrue, however, is in the area south of I-94 (the prominent east-west empty band near the bottom), where the relative numbers of rental and owner-occupied properties seem to almost completely invert. This area is near Indian Mounds Park and has some impressive views, so the difference is not necessarily surprising. Still, it is striking visually.

Frogtown (Thomas-Dale) and Hamline-Midway

Frogtown (Thomas-Dale) and Hamline-Midway

Another dramatic border is visible between Frogtown and Hamline-Midway, the border between which is Lexington Parkway (that broad road in roughly the middle of the map). The housing stock in Frogtown is significantly older than that in its neighbor, and much of it is in worse condition, in many cases at least partly due to the failures of inattentive landlords. But much is simply based on neighborhood perceptions; the difference between houses in the blocks east and west of Lexington are not so dramatic that they would prevent homebuyers from purchasing those properties instead of landlords or speculators.

The North End

The North End

The North End has a lower overall homeownership rate than Frogtown, but nevertheless appears visually to have a higher percentage of blue properties. In fact, many of the neighborhood’s renters live in two highly dense multi-family areas; the 580-unit McDonough Homes public housing, visible as a large red rectangle in the upper right, and a diffuse belt of postwar apartment buildings in the northern half, running south and then southwest.

You can download a much larger version of this map (10,000×6666) from Dropbox here.

Ethan Osten

About Ethan Osten

Ethan Osten is a writer, a co-chair of the Saint Paul Bicycle Coalition, an avid cyclist and bus rider, and generally a pretty boring guy. He lives in Saint Paul's North End.

11 thoughts on “Mapping Renters and Owners in Central Saint Paul

      1. John Maddening

        Well, I know that one was a rental property until spring, when it was purchased by the couple who live there now. Another, the woman has owned and lived there longer than we have (8 years).

        As to the other two, I have figured out that I am mistaken on one, and I’m not 100% sure of the other. But yeah, two are definitely listed as rentals when they are not.

        1. Scott Walters

          It does take a while for the classification change to work its way through the Ramsey County system. Also, some people lie. The house next door to us has been rental for a few years, and is listed as homestead.

      2. Peter Bajurny

        My guess is that they haven’t filed Homestead paperwork yet.

        Homesteaded properties is a good analogue for owner occupied properties but it’s not 100% perfect (probably like 99.99% accurate). My mom has owner occupied her house for about a year now, but is just now filing to have it homesteaded because it took this long for her previous home to sell.

  1. David MarkleDavid Markle

    50% renters is a low figure compared to my neighborhood in Minneapolis. I’d wager that far fewer than 10% of the units in Cedar Riverside are owner occupied.

    1. Ethan OstenEthan Osten Post author

      Saint Paul neighborhoods are structured a bit differently than Minneapolis neighborhoods. If “Cedar-Riverside” also included Seward and part of Longfellow, for example, you’d have much lower numbers.

      But they’re also clearly very different cities, especially in the central bits.

  2. David MarkleDavid Markle

    Yes, Seward and Longfellow have higher percentages of home ownership than Cedar Riverside. The casual observer will note the large apartment buildings of the MPHA Cedars complex, the Riverside Plaza complex. the 7 Corners Apartments building, and several newer large apartment buildings: a lot of units. But there’s something about the rest of the housing that’s peculiar to the history of Cedar Riverside stemming from the period of roughly 1970-1990.

    Developers Keith Heller and Gloria Segal scooped up most of the housing east of Cedar Avenue, in the meantime built Cedar Square West (now Riverside Plaza) west of Cedar, and then lost control of their holdings that got repossessed by the government.. A group of neighborhood activists, working with several city council members and one developer (who had recently headed the Minneapolis HRA) redeveloped–mostly rehabbed–those east-of-Cedar properties in a series of heavily subsidized and insider-oriented projects that effectively (improperly, in my view) excluded other developers including potential home owners. A quasi-collective little rental conglomerate was the result–reflecting a political philosophy that led some to call the operation “Moscow on the Mississippi.”

    With few exceptions the units have remained taxed at home owner rates but without property rights for the residents. At first the rent levels remained low but eventually rose pretty much to market levels. For many years the West Bank CDC has been the general partner in the successive groups of tax shelter limited partnerships.

    Of course much more could be added to this brief account.

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