Year in review: the great metro stories you may have missed – or simply forgotten – from 2021
No, 2021 wasn’t 2020. It wasn’t the year the pandemic started, or the year George Floyd was killed, sending shockwaves across the Twin Cities and the nation.
The chaos of 2020, however, set the political ground for 2021. Voters in Minneapolis and St. Paul have considered making large-scale changes to their cities’ operations, from the “dismantling” of the Minneapolis Police Department. to the imposition of one of the strictest rent controls. measures in the nation.
In Minneapolis, the mayor and city council were re-elected, as was the mayor of St. Paul. And in most cases, those contests boiled down to what contestants had to say about things from 2020: their views on post-Floyd policing and how best to deal with the challenges brought on by the pandemic.
But you know all this. So instead of rehashing these stories, let’s take a look back at some of the important stories you might have forgotten amid all the hubbub of 2021.
1. Minneapolis gets creative in housing policy
Homelessness and the shortage of affordable housing have been issues in Minneapolis for some time, but they have become particularly acute as the pandemic has set in.
In an effort to thwart the displacement, city officials began to consider a tenant buy-in law. Known as TOPA, it allows those who live in qualifying properties to pool their resources as a co-op to provide financing to purchase their building when an owner puts it up for sale. It would also allow tenants to partner with nonprofit housing organizations – or the city – to secure funding to finalize a deal with the landlord.
Yet the TOPA proposal is still a proposal – it has yet to be voted on by city council. However, this is not the case with another creative housing policy: the occupation of a single room. A callback to a type of housing that existed for much of the 20th century, a move to allow ORS housing – in which residents rent individual rooms but share bathrooms and kitchens with others in the building – was approved by Minneapolis City Council in July.
2. Minneapolis plans to move its elections to even years
While Minneapolis likes to brag about its turnout, it still can’t avoid a drop in odd-year elections when city officials are on the ballot – a drop that can sometimes feel more like a crater. Since 2001, the average participation rate in municipal elections has been 31%. The even-year presidential elections during the same period saw the city’s voter turnout average 75 percent. Even in 2021, when one of the city’s most intense and controversial elections was decided, around 54% of voters turned out, the highest since at least the 1970s. This is why , earlier this year, the Minneapolis Charter Commission began considering moving to even-numbered competitions, despite concerns by some that large-scale national or state-wide races might leave little energy or attention to local competitions. The other drawback: the change would mean that the representatives in office would see their mandate shortened by one year or extended by one year.
3. Local governments make (or try to make) illegal the sale of catalytic converters.
In the Twin Cities, as across the country, the theft of catalytic converters has increased significantly. In Minneapolis in 2019, there were less than 200 flights. In 2020, they were over 1,000. In response, Minneapolis approved an order making illegal sell a used catalytic converter that is not attached to a car – unless it is sold by an authorized and legitimate auto parts dealer, and St. Paul City Council is now considering implementing a similar law.
4. As other violent crimes have increased over the past year and changed, reports of rape have plunged in the Twin Cities
Reports of homicides and aggravated assaults have increased in Minneapolis and St. Paul, a disturbing trend that began a few years ago and continued into 2021. The only exception to the trend has been rape reports. For both cities, reports of rape have dropped considerably. After recording 426 rapes in 2018 and 495 in 2019, for example, Minneapolis has reported 373 rapes in 2020 and 363 so far in 2021. St. Paul has seen a similar trend. There, after the number of reported rapes increased each year from 2016 to 2019, they fell 19% in 2020 (although the number reported through October of this year is higher than last year) . One possible reason for the drop is the shutdown of many businesses and institutions during the pandemic, said St. Paul Police Sgt. Natalie Davis, especially bars, schools and college campuses. When restrictions ease – and especially when they are dropped altogether – advocates of sexual violence expect reports of rape to rebound.