Year in review: Big metro stories you may have missed — or just forgot — from 2021
No, 2021 was not 2020. It was not the year when the pandemic began, or the year George Floyd was killed, sending shockwaves of unrest through the Twin Cities and the nation.
The chaos of 2020, though, set the political stage for 2021. Voters in both Minneapolis and St. Paul considered making large-scale changes to their cities’ operations, from “dismantling” the Minneapolis Police Department to imposing one of the strictest rent control measures in the nation.
In Minneapolis, the mayor and city council were up for re-election, as was the mayor in St. Paul. And in most cases, those contests boiled down to what candidates had to say about things from 2020: their perspectives on policing post-Floyd and the best ways to handle challenges brought about by the pandemic.
But you know all of that. So instead of rehashing those stories, let’s revisit some of the important stories you may have forgotten about amid all of 2021’s hullabaloo.
1. Minneapolis got creative with housing policy
Homelessness and a dearth of affordable housing have been issues in Minneapolis for some time, but they became especially glaring as the pandemic took hold.
In an effort to thwart displacement, city officials began considering a Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act. Known as TOPA, it allows those who live in eligible properties the option of pooling their resources together as a co-operative to provide financing to buy their building when a landlord puts it up for sale. It would also allow tenants to team up with non-profit housing organizations — or the city — to secure funding to finalize a deal with the owner.
Yet the TOPA proposal is still a proposal — it has yet to be put to a vote by the City Council. That’s not the case with another creative housing policy, however: Single Room Occupancy. A callback to a kind of housing that existed for a big chunk of the 20th century, a measure to allow SRO housing — in which residents rent individual rooms but share bathrooms and kitchens with others in the building — was approved by the Minneapolis City Council in July.
2. Minneapolis considers moving its elections to even years
Though Minneapolis enjoys boasting about its turnout record, it still can’t avoid a dip during odd-year elections when municipal officers are on the ballot — a dip that can sometimes look more like a crater. Since 2001, the average turnout for city elections is 31 percent. Even-year presidential elections during that same time period saw voters in the city turnout at an average of 75 percent. Even in 2021, when one of the city’s most intense and contentious elections was being decided, about 54 percent of voters turned out, the highest it’s been since at least the 1970s. That’s the reason why, earlier this year, the Minneapolis Charter Commission began considering the switch to even-year contests, despite concerns among some that high-profile national or statewide races may leave little energy or attention for local contests. The other downside: the switch would result in sitting representatives either having their term cut short a year or extended a year.
3. Local governments are making it (or trying to make it) illegal to sell catalytic converters
In the Twin Cities, like all over the nation, thefts of catalytic converters have dramatically increased. In Minneapolis in 2019, there were less than 200 thefts. In 2020 there were over 1,000. In response, Minneapolis approved an ordinance that makes it illegal to sell a used catalytic converter that is not attached to a car — unless it’s sold by a licensed and legitimate auto parts dealer, and St. Paul City Council is now considering implementing a similar law.
4. As other violent crimes spiked during the last year and change, rape reports dipped in the Twin Cities
Reports of homicides and aggravated assaults have spiked in both Minneapolis and St. Paul, a worrying trend that started in a few years ago and continued in 2021. The one exception to the trend was reports of rape. For both cities, reports of rape have fallen significantly. After recording 426 rapes in 2018 and 495 in 2019, for example, Minneapolis reported 373 rapes in 2020 and 363 so far in 2021. St. Paul saw a similar trend. There, after the number of reported rapes grew every year from 2016 to 2019, they dropped by 19 percent in 2020 (though the number reported through October of this year is higher than it was last year). One possible reason for the decline 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 — sexual violence advocates anticipate rape reports to bounce back.