Opinion Rent control is an essential way to keep housing affordable

The Elle apartment building in Northwest D.C.

The Elle apartment building in Northwest D.C. this week. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

In the March 7 letter “How to make housing affordable,” the president of the National Multifamily Housing Council, a powerful lobbying group for corporate landlords, failed to reckon with studies that suggest rent control will quickly stabilize sky-high rents for middle- and working-class Americans. The real estate industry is a business, but when it seeks to generate maximum profits, it exacts human costs in the form of the housing affordability and homelessness crises.

Instead of trickle-down housing — building luxury apartments and hoping that more supply will translate to cheaper rents — we need a multi-pronged approach. Leaders should protect tenants through rent control and other renter rights; preserve existing affordable housing, not demolish it to make way for luxury housing that few people can afford; and produce more units explicitly intended to be affordable and to house people who are currently homeless.

Rent control and other tenant protections are especially important. Corporate landlords have demonstrated over the years that, given the opportunity, they will charge any rent they like.

Take the RealPage scandal, which has triggered federal and state investigations into allegations that a cartel of corporate landlords work together to charge rents well above market rates through a software program many of them used. ProPublica, which broke the RealPage story, found that some real estate companies will keep units vacant until they find tenants who are willing to pay exorbitant rents.

As for the claim that rent control results in higher rents for non-rent-controlled units, that assumes real estate companies would restrain themselves absent government action. If anything, that argument shows why we need stronger rent control, so more people are protected against predatory landlords.

Middle- and working-class Americans are facing a dire situation, shelling out huge chunks of their paychecks for rent. Americans can’t wait decades for the market to adjust. We need rent control, and we need it now.

Patrick Range McDonaldLos Angeles

The writer is an advocacy journalist for Housing is a Human Right, a project of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation.