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.
April 4, 2015, 9am PDT | Josh Stephens | @jrstephens310
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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."

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Published on Wednesday, April 1, 2015 in Pacific Standard
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