I’ve worked on housing affordability since 1997. That whole time, the Twin Cities has been losing ground, with homes becoming steadily less affordable. Rents have been rising — sometimes very rapidly. The portion of people paying more than 30 percent or even 50 percent of their income in rent (the definition of “housing cost burden”) is stubbornly high, especially for Black households. While we increase public funding for Affordable Housing — the subsidized kind — the number of unsheltered people grows.
The first step in turning that around is to stop losing the most common kind of affordable home, “Naturally Occurring Affordable Housing” (NOAH) apartments. The Twin Cities population grew by 314,000 more people between 2010 and 2020, and we haven’t built enough homes to shelter everyone. As a result, people looking for a place to live unknowingly bid up rents on the homes that exist. In Minneapolis, and across the Twin Cities, we’ve seen owners flipping NOAH properties, pushing out renters and jacking up rents.
But, recently, it seems like something has started to shift.
Each year, I revisit the rents in the fourplex I own. For a while, the rents in similar apartments were inevitably higher. A couple of years ago, I noticed they weren’t going up anymore. In fact, they were a little lower — and when I renewed leases, I dropped my rents (even though my property tax and insurance costs increased by thousands of dollars).
Then there was the story of my longtime neighbor. He mentioned to a couple of the other owner/managers on the block that he wanted to move. A few weeks ago he told me that he’d signed a lease just up the block for $300 less per month than what he’s paying next door.
Is something shifting or is it my own wishful thinking? Are we on track with Policy 1 in Minneapolis 2040: Access to Housing: Increase the supply of housing and its diversity of location and types? Has visible support for building homes and the tax base resulted in a net gain of homes? Have early 2040 zoning reforms made it more predictable to build the homes we need?
In 2018, streets.mn writer Anton Schieffer asked, “How many homes does Minneapolis need?” He showed we need to build roughly 4,000 homes per year. That makes up for Minneapolis’ shortage of homes and accommodates our growing population. Alex Schieferdecker tracks the number of homes approved by the Planning Commission. Last year he shared that Minneapolis leaped from 2,600 unit approvals in 2015 to 5,077 approvals in 2020. HUD data on construction permits pulled shows 14,960 units permitted between 2018 and 2021. That averages 3,740 per year. It is plausible that owners and managers are having to lower asking rents to find renters.
The best Minneapolis data on rent changes is HousingLink’s monthly Minneapolis Rental Housing Brief. Other sources are for the seven-county metro area or are self-reported rent paid for buildings with 20-plus units (per this MinnPost article). That misses many people’s experience, given that one in three renters in Minneapolis lives in one- to three-unit buildings, licensing data show.
HousingLink’s Rental Housing Brief uses advertised rents by apartment size. That is what renters see when looking for a new apartment, although we can’t know if owner/managers find renters willing to pay those prices. Each month is shown compared with one year prior. But smallish sample sizes and outliers skew the monthly data. What I really want to know is how things have changed over the past five years.
This spring, I pulled all the median advertised rent information from the Minneapolis Rental Housing Brief into a spreadsheet. I didn’t adjust it for inflation. I used three-month rolling averages to smooth out the monthly noise. Check out these results.
The actual advertised median rents for one- and two-bedroom apartments are lower — in actual dollars — in 2022 than they were in late 2018. Three-bedroom rents went up 2 percent over the four years, while inflation went up 11 percent over the same time. These shifts started more than a year before the pandemic. “Post” pandemic increases look big due to the atypical and extremely low rents during summer 2020. But trends show that Minneapolis rents have simply returned to pre-pandemic levels.
This is a notable shift, diverging from national trends that show spiking rents (shown in the graph above), and it’s promising for renters.
St. Paul Rents Trending Higher
We have a regional housing market, so I pulled the data for St. Paul, too. Until voters passed rent stabilization by a comfortable margin last November — the ordinance became effective earlier this month, on May 1 — new housing construction had been growing in St. Paul, with permits pulled for 6,369 units from 2018 through 2020. I hoped that the pattern would hold in both core cities.
Median advertised one-bedroom rents in St. Paul are flat. But two-bedroom rents are up a little, and three-bedroom rents increased twice as much as in Minneapolis. St. Paul rents are trending in the opposite direction from Minneapolis.
There’s always been a rent premium to live in Minneapolis or, put another way, a discount offered to people willing to rent in its smaller twin city. Has that changed over the past four years?
No matter the apartment size, while renters likely can save a bit by living in St. Paul, the median savings has shrunk from hundreds of dollars per month to $50. In a surprising shift, median advertised rents were actually lower in Minneapolis than St. Paul for one-bedroom and three-bedroom homes both in February and March 2022.
Affordable Housing Not Solved
These trends suggest that owners have less ability to flip more NOAH properties, increase rents and still find renters. Most NOAH owners will have to keep their rents flat, or maybe even drop them, to keep them filled. If we’ve staunched the loss of NOAH units, building new subsidized homes can help shrink the number of people who need a place that fits their budget. Unfortunately, tens of thousands of people currently need an affordable home.
But building affordable homes will never be enough. This problem has no single solution. We also need more tenant protections, like just-cause eviction and rent stabilization. We need to ensure that every person has the income to afford a home whether from increased wages, making housing subsidy an entitlement or social housing. Minneapolis minimum wage hasn’t yet reached $15 per hour, and $15 is a long way from the NLIHC-calculated $17.27 housing wage needed to afford just a studio apartment in the Twin Cities.
I’m left with more questions: Why are advertised Minneapolis rents dropping compared with St. Paul rents? Why are Minneapolis and St. Paul rents flat compared with national trends?
Median rent trends hide what’s happening for people in the toughest situations: people with very low incomes, those who are facing discrimination or who need accessible homes. There’s plenty we can’t see here.
- How do these median rent shifts compare to the experience of low-income renters?
- Are owner/managers able to find renters at the advertised prices?
- How often are owner/managers offering leasing bonuses, like free months for signing a lease, that mean these advertised rent numbers are higher than the actual rent they’re receiving?
What do you see in these data? What questions do you have?
Photo at top of story courtesy of MPR News
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As the research guy behind the Rental Housing Brief series, I can say – great work presenting the data in this form! It’s fascinating to see what the data can reveal when looking at longer trends, and I think smoothing the data via “rolling three-month” representation is a good choice.
The stabilizing Minneapolis rents are even more striking, I think, given how much of the sample size in vacancies has been driven by new construction in and around Downtown (representing units just entering the market that I tend to associate with cutting-edge amenities and higher property value submarket). The two lines of inquiry that occur to me as I read this piece are:
1. Did the rash of new construction that was really hitting just before the pandemic represent an over-swinging of the pendulum on demand and create – at least within the downtown-ish areas containing a disproportionate % of the sample – an “overbuilt” phenomenon? Marquette Advisors’ “Apartment Trends” shows downtown Minneapolis with vacancy rates that have persistently higher than Minneapolis as a whole (and for sure the rest of the Metro) beginning before the pandemic hit, and continuing throughout it to the present. Will be interesting to see if and when that vacancy rate subsides how direct the impact on rents is.
2. I do wonder if any “quality of life” perceptions, especially given the current state (and narrative) around public safety, is having any impact on what management companies believe they can charge. Obviously, price points are in most cases algorithm-driven, so there’d need to be a higher-vacancy rate at the root of the issue. But it would be interesting to explore whether higher vacancy rate is behaving independent of permitting & construction spikes.
I’m curious about the trends from before Rental Housing Brief history. Do you have city-level data from earlier years? Would HousingLink consider sharing the Minneapolis/St. Paul-only data on the trends before 2018?
One thing to note is that starting in 2018 and continuing onward, the number of approved housing units outside of downtown Minneapolis absolutely skyrocketed, while the number of approved housing units in downtown Minneapolis stayed relatively constant each year.
Alex, thanks for this context. I gather from your comment that you are referring to percent change. Any idea how the volume DT units compared to that of outside? My assumption would be that the volume of DT construction was still such that it was driving overall Mpls trends, even if (in a relative sense) the percent of new units going in wasn’t changing that wildly.
Talking about raw numbers.
This is how many units the Mpls Planning Commission approved year by year (downtown referring to the area bounded by the river and the freeway loop).
2022: 109 (YTD)
2022: 1,704 (YTD)
So from 2018-2020, excepting 2021, and then seemingly resuming in 2022, areas outside the downtown saw a major surge in the number of housing units being approved, while the yearly total in the downtown remained in a much narrower range.
Alex, thank you!
This is a nice analysis. It seems from the news covering this topic that Mpls is in fact reaping the benefits of the aggressive build out – I suspect that the operating space for someone to buy and upgrade NOAH to more upmarket is shrinking as brand new units with more amenties bigger windows better floorplans and the like hit the market in large numbers. On the St. Paul side, some media coverage has suggested that landlords who have been complacent on market rates have moved to try and catch up before the rent stabilization took effect May1 – that coupled with shutting down new construction is a recipie for prices to go up… I did think it was ironic though in your closing comments despite the comparison of the two cities rental market performance you assert we “need” rent stabilization. I think the data (here and elsewhere) would dispute that.
Difference between rent stabilization policies (which aim to smooth out rent surges for individual long-term tenants and so usually include components like vacancy decontrol and new construction exemptions), and rent control policies like what St. Paul passed.
A lot has been learned about how to make rent regulations work in the past fifty years, St. Paul ignored all of that with damaging effects, but that doesn’t mean anyone else needs to.
I was in an affordable housing discussion and a concern was brought up- due to flat rental prices coupled with inflation/increased costs to provide housing, there are people worried that participation in section 8 may be hurt. In the Twin Cities, section 8 did not raise its rent reimbursement for 2022. With higher costs, some housing providers may/will be raising rents to make up for higher expenses and that could remove a certain number of apartments from project based reimbursement arrangements or section 8 consideration.
Recent research shows both that renters experience gouging, that renter protections are important, and that rent stabilization can be implemented without harming production. Dropping median rents makes it much harder for landlords to pass gouging rent increases, but it doesn’t make it impossible. While I hope we maintain high home production levels it’s not guaranteed. I strongly support passing rent stabilization to protect renters who are structurally at risk for unsustainable rent hikes.
Hi Janne, could you point me toward this recent research? Thanks 🙂
Specific to Minneapolis, from CURA, with national examples: https://www.cura.umn.edu/research/minneapolis-rent-stabilization-study
Urban Institute on the policy choices and their implication: https://www.urban.org/research/publication/rent-control-key-policy-components-and-their-equity-implications
Urban Institute on effectiveness: https://www.urban.org/research/publication/rent-control-what-does-research-tell-us-about-effectiveness-local-action
Brookings on their effects: https://www.brookings.edu/research/what-does-economic-evidence-tell-us-about-the-effects-of-rent-control/
“when I renewed leases, I dropped my rents (even though my property tax and insurance costs increased by thousands of dollars).”
So are you now losing money renting the units in your 4-plex? Would you be better off financially with no renters, and perhaps a lower lower property tax and maybe even a slightly lower insurance rate?
What goes up, must come down. You can only gouge so much, especially when, if someone has the income to rent a unit in a 4-plex in Uptown, low interest rates make ownership an affordable option.
I think this article is very well done. I wonder whether excluding the inflation adjustment is the right approach. If rents went down and income went up, that seems like a direct impact to the affordability of housing in Minneapolis over this time period.
I’m curious how this data impacts highly motivated advocates on either side of a rent cap options as Minneapolis looks at whether to implement a policy. It becomes difficult to point to out of control rent increases when the data shows a pretty flat rental rate. I’ve talked to several housing providers in St Paul, and the policy there has caused them to plan 3% rent increases annually into the future as they lack decontrol or recapture if they face inflation/rising costs.
It is my opinion that it is important to protect renters from rent gouging. I would like to pass a policy where the benefits accrue to the folks who can least afford huge rent increases, and that means folks who generally live in older buildings. As a child of the 70s, I’ve always thought that it needs to be responsive to inflation, and this year is reinforcing that preference. I’ve looked at how various rent stabilization policies would have affected my rent decisions over the last 20 years, and because they would have had almost no impact on my decisions, I think most owners and managers could navigate a well-written policy.
I also think that it is more possible to pass a policy in a context when overall rents are dropping, because it won’t constrain owners who aren’t able to raise rents given the market. We’ll see how it plays out!
The fear of rampant crime sends renters to the suburbs, lowering competition and rents in Minneapolis. Call it the Baltimore of the North.
What a well educated response not at all based on baseless assumptions getting to push your own false narrative 🙄
I live there, and was kind of thinking the same thing (the value lost due to public safety and education concerns). That said, the trends didn’t appear to show any fluctuations around the major events these past few years.
I encourage you to click through and read my previous post about how I set rents in my fourplex. What I think is most important here, is that I – and other people setting rents – don’t have a choice to charge any rent we want. If I don’t drop my rents, it is very likely that the people currently living downstairs from me will do what my neighbor did, and move somewhere else that is less expensive.
I don’t get to decide what other people are willing to pay for rent, I can only choose what rent to ask of people who want a place to live. My choices are
1) maintain or raise my rent levels, lose my current renters, incur the high costs of turnover, and have empty units -> no rent income & a very bad financial situation
2) lower my rents, increase the odds my current renters will stay and the ease of finding new renters when they move -> weaker financial situation
3) sell my house
I think it’s a very good thing that currently, power is shifting (slightly) towards renters and away from landlords (like me). I hope this continues.
Not exactly correct. When rents were skyrocketing, while your costs were not skyrocketing, you did have another choice – not to do your comparison selling/landlording. Instead, you chose to follow the trend and cash in on the exorbitant prices for apartment rentals. Now that the rental prices are falling, while your costs continue to rise, you’re stilling making money, just not as much. I assure you, no one renting an apartment is shedding any tears for your reduced income.
I lived in an old brownstone in Loring Park for 28 years. They sold the building last summer, my lease is up at the end of this month and the new owners are doing modest renovations and raising rents by about 300/mo. I’m a state govt employee so my pay is low enough that I qualify for section 42 so after 30 years in Loring Park I moved to St Paul as I couldn’t afford nor did I want to pay 300 more for my old brownstone that has rodents and, recently, cockroaches, when I got a much nicer apt with a balcony, pool and in unit washer dryer in a neighborhood with much lower crime and my rent is lower than what they were going to raise my rent to on Loring Park. Glad the rents are trending down for other units in Mpls but that wasnt what I experienced and I never thought I’d leave Loring Park but this 30-year resident was finally priced out.
I’m sorry to hear your landlord (tried to) raise your rent so much, and I’m happy there were better alternatives for less money. A real challenge with “median rent data” is that it can’t capture specific stories like yours, so thanks for sharing your story here.
I did my annual rent review for my 4plex today, and I suspect that your Loring Park landlord may have a harder time filling units at that price than they expect. And, people like you shouldn’t be displaced for them to find that out the hard way – your story shows why we need rent stabilization.
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Yeah….I wonder why? I grew up in Minnesota and I am 69. My wife and I have seen WAY too many other better places to live than Minnesota. We will never move back!!
Lived many places, keep coming back to the Twin Cities… Your loss. Kinda weird you’re saying you’ll never move back but you’re keeping tabs on it… Reminds me of people that slowly past drive an exes house 🤣
Rent control would be an obvious reason why rents didn’t experience a drop in St. Paul like they did in Minneapolis. You’re going to be reluctant to lower rents if you know you can’t’ just raise them if the market changes or your building needs a new roof, so increased vacancy might be an acceptable trade-off vs lowering rents, and landlords will have noted this is causing a drop in new units being constructed that will in the future compete with their units.
There’s also the perception that the wildly out of control crime wave the metro region is experiencing is much worse in Minneapolis, and the police there are incompetent / unmotivated / underfunded / understaffed / hamstrung by city government in regards to cracking down on it. This combined with teleworking (and often the desire for more space to do such) is encouraging the people that didn’t like living in the city but did so to be close to their job downtown to leave.
There is no reason a landlord should be raising rent just because an apartment building has a new roof. A new roof adds no additional value to the renter’s experience. A renter rarely cares how old the roof is. A renter just wants the roof to not leak water onto their possessions.
A new roof is something a landlord should be thinking about the day an apartment building is built. A portion of each month’s rent should be set aside to pay for the next roof replacement. If the roof needs replacement every twenty years at a cost of $40,000 then the landlord should be charging renters $2,000 per year for their share of the next roof replacement. This ensures the landlord has the money to replace the roof when the time comes and no need to raise the rent to pay for the roof.
My complex raised rent 50 percent over 3 years and in their letter justifying the last and largest increase, they literally used replacing the deteriorating roofs as justification 😳
While property owners do have a monthly amount in the rent that is allocated to maintenance and capital improvements, the large cost increases over the past 2 years haven’t been passed on until now. A new hot water heater that was $1,000 2 years ago, is now $1800. An average roof was $12,000, it is now $17,000. A stove replacement was $450 two years ago, it’s now $650. A fridge was $500, it’s now $800. A typical new rent increase would reflect the rise in costs/how much more the allocation has gone up to account for these types of large increases in costs/inflation on construction and capital purchases. I saw an analysis showing it adds about $50/month per apartment as compared to pre covid levels.
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Rent control has been horrible in Minneapolis. If your black African American they expect you to make 3-4 times the rent that’s ridiculous some people do not even make salary! If you want to live in a nice area such as Plymouth, Maple Grove they expect you to pay additional deposit admistration fees and a deposit this is sick! Minneapolis should be ashamed on how things is sky rocking. Then if you our approve your paying for water, trash, electricity, renters insurance ex. What’s the point of working when your whole pay check goes to rent you cannot even supply for your family neither save. Just Sad! They need to drop the prices starting 1 bedroom is $1500-1600 the. Overall the lift for Evictions is lifting June 1 2021 like come on America do better!
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The author’s calls for ‘rent stabilization’ and ‘just cause eviction’ are disgraceful and nearly ruin the article. These ideas are nothing more than attacks on individual rights that will work against increased housing.