If We Want Affordable Housing, We Need Rent Control

Marchers rally for housing rights in San Francisco, California, October 2013.

Marchers rally for housing rights in San Francisco, California, October 2013.

In 2024, rent control is gaining traction as one possible solution to a growing affordable housing crisis across the country.

While a rent control bill in Washington state ultimately stalled, caps on rent increases, late charges, and fees inched closer to passage than ever before. In Pennsylvania, Democratic Governor Josh Shapiro has proposed $80 million to fund anti-homelessness initiatives and public legal defense against evictions. St. Paul, Minnesota, and Montgomery County in Maryland recently joined the list of 200 local governments that successfully regulate rents.

In California, the Yes on 33 Act is on the ballot this November to remove the state’s rent control ban. The 2024 ballot initiative would give local communities the right to stabilize rents and make apartments more affordable for low-income renters.

Nationally, more than 60 percent of Americans support rent control. In deep-red Florida, eight-in-ten voters agree that the state should limit rent increases. In deep-blue California, the Yes on 33 Act is attracting majority support.

The consensus is this: The rent is too damn high, with half of all U.S. renters now paying more than 30 percent of their income on monthly rent. Housing demand is greater than supply, with one exception: There is a surplus of luxury housing. If a household can afford rent totaling $10,000 a month or more, there is no shortage of options.

Building more housing would help lower costs, but not all housing is equal. There is very little housing being built for very low-income individuals and their families. More expensive apartments do not magically trickle down to the poorest among us. If they did, perhaps there wouldn’t be more and more people living on the streets in cities like Los Angeles.

A Californian making a minimum wage of $15 an hour only can afford to spend $780 a month on rent without having to sacrifice basic necessities like food and healthcare. There are almost no apartments in major cities where the rent is that low unless the individual qualifies for a limited number of rent subsidy programs or is lucky enough to live in a rent-controlled building.

In lieu of affordable housing construction, rent control becomes a necessity so low-income Americans can actually afford to stay in their homes. They can’t afford to wait for more affordable housing to be built (although that is important in the long run). Another part of the solution is to provide subsidies to tenants and landlords who commit to housing the most disadvantaged over time.

Here’s another one: preventing current low-income housing from being converted into high-end condominiums or hotels. Charging a vacancy tax on high-end development, for instance, can discourage speculation that drives rents ever higher.

If politicians are serious about solving the affordable housing problem, let’s dispense with ideology, figure out where we agree, and accept the fact that housing is a human right.

This column was produced for Progressive Perspectives, a project of The Progressive magazine, and distributed by Tribune News Service.