Reconsidering Rent Control

Rent control's heyday came and went decades ago, as free-market advocates won out over long-term renters. With housing prices skyrocketing in many U.S. metros, the benefits of rent control may outweigh the harms.

2 minute read

April 4, 2015, 9:00 AM PDT

By Josh Stephens @jrstephens310

For Rent

Shane Adams /

The nation's stock of rent-controlled housing has been dwindling for years. Property owners across the country have successfully argued that rent control robs them of value, distorts the free market, and drives up rents for new residents. Economists overwhelmingly disapprove of it. 

Even so, the county of San Mateo, California, is among a few that are taking another look at rent control. San Mateo County lies in the heart of Silicon Valley, where rents far exceed the grasp of many lower income workers. In larger cities, non-rent controlled tenants are under constant threat of displacement, as landlords raise rent to keep up with demand. Demand arises in part because supplies are constrained, with not nearly enough market-rate or affordable units being built in cities like New York, Seattle, Boston, and Washington, D.C. 

Supporters of rent control argue that stable, long-term renters help create the sense of vibrancy that makes communities attractive (and expensive) in the first place. And they ultimately argue that the moral rights of existing residents take precedence over, or at least deserve a fighting chance against, the economic interests of new residents. 

"The argument for rent control should be distinguished from the argument for affordability per-se," says Joshua Mason, an economics professor at Roosevelt University, told Pacific Standard. "Long-term tenants who contributed to this being a desirable place to live have a legitimate interest in staying in their apartments. If we think that income diverse, stable neighborhoods, where people are not forced to move every few years, [are worth preserving] then we collectively have an interest in stabilizing the neighborhood."

Wednesday, April 1, 2015 in Pacific Standard

Aerial view of Oceanwide Plaza skyscrapers covered with graffiti tags.

LA’s Abandoned Towers Loom as a “$1.2 Billion Ruin of Global Capital”

Oceanwide Plaza, shuttered mid-construction after its developer filed for bankruptcy, has stood vacant on prime Los Angeles real estate since 2019.

May 21, 2024 - The Architect's Newspaper

Entrance to a drive-through car wash at night with green 'Enter' sign.

Ohio Towns Move to Ban New Car Washes

City officials in northeast Ohio are putting limits on how many car wash facilities can open in their towns.

May 16, 2024 - News 5 Cleveland

Ornate, tan stone capitol building with a gold dome roof and low-rise city buildings in the background.

States Are Banning Guaranteed Income Programs

Four states now have laws in place that prevent cities and counties from creating or continuing guaranteed income programs, and several more have tried or are trying.

May 23, 2024 - Bloomberg CityLab

View of downtown Dallas, Texas skyline with skyscrapers against twilight sky.

Dallas Hopes to Boost Economy With TV and Film Tax Breaks

The Dallas city council voted unanimously to request a designation from the state that would allow the city to offer sales and use tax exemptions for redevelopment of TV and film production facilities.

May 27 - The Dallas Morning News

Close-up of mobile phone with Airbnb and VRBO app icons.

Proposed Bill Would Outlaw Nearly Half of Cleveland's Airbnbs

The proposed new ordinance aims to help combat the Cleveland's housing crunch and eliminate nuisance complaints related to short-term rental properties.

May 27 - Cleveland Scene

White and peach Florida state capitol building with palm trees in front in Tallahassee, Florida.

Florida Rolls Back Renewable Energy Goals

A new state law eliminates language calling for a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and makes it easier to build natural gas pipelines.

May 27 - News Service of Florida

News from HUD User

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

Call for Speakers

Mpact Transit + Community

New Updates on PD&R Edge

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Planning for Universal Design

Learn the tools for implementing Universal Design in planning regulations.