Opinion: Rising Cost of Housing Is Main Reason for Inflation — Let’s Vote for Rent Stabilization

Apartments in downtown San Diego

Apartments in downtown San Diego. Photo by Chris Stone

When we talk about inflation, our minds default to a quart of milk, a loaf of bread, or a gallon of oil. So would you be surprised to learn that 60% of core inflation is housing?

In fact, our post-COVID inflation surge was turbo-charged by the increased cost of housing. This hits lower- and working-class people the hardest because more of their income goes to housing, and they have so much less disposable income in the first place.

If you are on a limited income and the increase in your Social Security was 5%, but your rent increase is 10%, where will that money come from? For tens of millions of Americans, it will come from skimping on food, cutting pills in half to make them last, or dipping into meager savings. Too many people live in fear that the next rent increase will put them out on the street or make them flee their hometown, where all of their loved ones live.

The difference between a dozen eggs and a place to live is that the price of rent never goes down. While rent increases may moderate, the existing tenant has to absorb that increase no matter what. Unlike a certain cut of meat that you can no longer afford, so you switch to ground beef, you cannot save on shelter without major disruption. Even if you do move, there is no guarantee that, over time, you will not be priced out of that place too.

Society regulates the necessities of life. Utilities must provide deep discounts to poor customers. Farm prices are subsidized. Services such as schools, libraries, and parks are offered for free.

And yet, when it comes to shelter which is necessary for survival, it is subject to very little regulation. In most places, you can charge whatever the market will bear for a housing unit without regard to the consequences for the tenant. Rather than a housing safety net, we have a shelter rat race.

This November, California residents will have the chance to vote for rent control. The Yes on 33 Act would help local governments throughout the state stabilize rents and ease the burden for tenants, who never know how much their rent is going to be year-to-year. Big Real Estate and corporate landlords are already fighting this ballot initiative, lying about what it does or how far it goes, because they care more about profits than keeping people in their homes and off the streets.

Most landlords’ knee-jerk reaction to rent regulation is to call it “creeping communism,” which it certainly is not. We don’t live in a laissez-faire capitalist system. Most people recognize that market competition is not sufficient to meet all of society’s needs. That’s why we have public hospitals, food stamps, and benefits for the handicapped. Everyone in society cannot fend for themselves all of the time.

But, when it comes to housing, you are mostly on your own. And, if you don’t have the money, you are out of luck.

Sensible regulation is vital to keeping the most vulnerable housed. Without it, our streets will continue to fill with homeless people, while millions more wonder if they will be next.

Michael Weinstein is the president of AIDS Healthcare Foundation, the largest global HIV/AIDS organization, and AHF’s Healthy Housing Foundation.