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Pioneer Editorial: Affordable housing, not rental ban

The Bemidji City Council last week held the first reading of an ordinance which would ban -- for up to one year -- the issuance of new rental registration licenses for single-family dwellings. The move, councilors say, is needed because the character of some Bemidji neighborhoods is changing, with a 30 to 40 percent increase in new rentals in former single-family homes. "... the city of Bemidji has received extensive public comment and complaint that the amount of single-family dwellings being converted to rental property has had detrimental effect on the quality of life of Bemidji's old town core neighborhoods, including single-family residential character, increased parking congestion, blight, risk to peace and order, public health concerns, and excessive demands upon municipal services and public safety resources," according to the ordinance.

During the moratorium, the city and the Greater Bemidji Area Joint Powers Board would study changes in zoning to specify rental density and other controls.

We are not a fan of government restricting free market enterprise, and certainly the proposed ordinance would restrict a landowner's constitutional rights to use his property as he deems without interfering with the rights of others. The city should not deprive a landowner of the ability to realized income from his property, and a ban on his ability to make income from rent could be considered an illegal taking without just compensation.

Yet urban areas need to control development as to not encourage urban blight or serve to create pockets of poverty.

The city and JPB should do a thorough study and end the moratorium as soon as possible, but this much is known before a study even begins. Landowners would rather prefer to sell their property to another land -- home -- owner but today's economy is prohibitive. Easier credit and tax incentives for first-time homebuyers is needed to incentivize single-family home ownership.

And, since at 28 percent, the neighborhood nearest Bemidji State has the highest rental percentage in the city, the college needs to be a partner in finding affordable student housing that doesn't eat up valuable single-family dwellings nearby. BSU lacks dormitories, but perhaps their time is done. New innovations, such as student condos, need consideration to move packs of students out of what should be single-family homes. Perhaps the old Bemidji High School property could provide townhouse or condo living for students.

Securing more affordable housing should be the goal, not a moratorium that prevents landowners from the use of their property. Hopefully, that direction will become clear and the moratorium short-lived.