The city of Bemidji faces a housing crisis that won't be solved by a moratorium on new rental licenses for single-family homes in the city. The Bemidji City Council, voting 4-3 against the ban, thankfully realized that.
It is understandable that some councilors most affected by high rentals, such as that around the Bemidji State campus, would have cause for concern. They envision a changing neighborhood with the stereotype that renters don't care about the upkeep of places they don't own, and absentee landlords only want the rent money and are loathe to spend any on upkeep.
But with some 5,000 rentals in Bemidji, and an increase of 40 to 50 percent since 2005 of the number of rental-occupied single-0family homes, the cow was long ago let out of the barn and closing the door now won't accomplish much.
Better is a housing strategy for the city, one that makes the inner city once again attractive for families to own and occupy a home. Neighborhood improvement programs begun in some neighborhoods many years ago need to be renewed and expanded.
And as advocated by City Attorney Al Felix, the city needs to step up its inspections of rental homes to make sure they are up to code, clean and well-maintained. Landlords and tenants alike need to take responsibility as citizens in our community and maintain their homes.
Mayor Richard Lehmann's suggestion of a committee to gain public input into responding to housing issues is a good one, but should become larger. A full task force should be formed, with a definite timeline, to renew a housing strategy for the city that addresses the need for new housing, rehabilitated housing, affordable housing, market-rate housing, senior housing, etc. And where.
The City Council used good common sense in turning away a proposal that would have created further housing problems in Bemidji in artificially creating a housing shortage for renters. But now the real work should come to find the best plan to lead the cow back into the barn.