Renters strike back as cities cap price hikes by landlords

Malcolm Torrejn Chu is the director of programs at the affordable housing and tenant advocacy group Right to the City Alliance. We are expecting more support, and our member organizations are preparing to re-engage in the effort to win rent control.

The revival of rent control policies that were derided by economists, including one of President Joe Biden's top advisers, comes as officials at all levels of government scramble to contain rising prices across a range of goods and services. Federal and local officials have yet to find ways to accelerate enough construction to meet demand because of the historic housing supply crunch. Rent caps promise immediate relief, but critics warn they could be a bad idea.

Joseph Gyourko is an economics professor at the University of Pennsylvania. It is not a good way to make housing more affordable because it will harm supply quickly.

Rent control laws were adopted at the local level in the US in the 1920s. They gained popularity as the economy recovered from the Great Depression and cities saw an influx of workers during World War II. Rent freezes and price ceilings were enacted in New York. The policies were abandoned during the postwar housing boom.

Rent control took off in coastal cities in the 1970s because of the high prices and limited housing stock, mostly in the Northeast and California.

California, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York and Oregon are the only states with rent restrictions in place. Rent control is not allowed in more than 30 states.

The US economy is emerging from nearly two years of Covid-19 restrictions and faces surging housing prices. According to Apartment List, the national median rent increased from January to October.

A woman holds a sign as demonstrators march in the street during the Cancel Rent and Mortgages rally.

The Supreme Court blocked the nationwide eviction ban in August, but affordable housing advocates say they have been encouraged by the success of the policy.

Lindsay Owens is the executive director of the progressive Groundwork Collaborative. Rent controls feel feasible now, and many things don't until they are.

Rent control makes landlords sell to owner-occupants as a way to earn the market price for their real estate in order to discourage development.

A better way to help struggling tenants make ends meet is to give them money, according to Gyourko, who specializes in housing markets and real estate finance at the Wharton business school.

He said to not distort the housing market. "Don't make it more expensive in the long run by messing up supply."

The city of St. Paul has six months to implement the most stringent rent-control policy in the nation after 53 percent of voters approved it this month. Rent increases will be capped at 3 percent annually. The St. Paul initiative does not include exemptions for new buildings or small landlords.

The campaign manager for Keep St. Paul Home said that they wanted to make sure that coverage was universal for all.

According to a financial disclosure, the Minnesota Multi Housing Association spent about $3.6 million to fight the proposal. The Keep St. Paul Home spent $200,000 in the month of October.

The campaign showed that grassroots organizing can beat moneyed opposition.

The Minnesota Multi Housing Association did not respond.

Greg Brown, the head of government affairs for the National Apartment Association, said that the group is going to fight ballot measures next year.

There is upward pressure on rents because of the supply issue. These policies, which appear on their face to be a quick and easy solution, are becoming more popular.

A poll of voters in October showed that 59 percent of respondents supported rent control in Boston.

Boston's mayor was sworn in at Boston City Hall.

Massachusetts voters banned rent control in 1994. The state Legislature doesn't seem to be interested in reversing the ban, as well as the Republican Gov. Charlie Baker.

Baker said in a recent interview that he would leave the door open to the idea of helping with the cost of living in Massachusetts, which he said was the biggest cost-of-living problem in the state.

After she was sworn in as mayor, she had a wide-ranging meeting in which she spoke on the matter with Baker. She said rent control " doesn't have to look like how it's looked in the past."

The Biden administration encouraged states and cities to impose eviction bans during the Pandemic and to ease restrictive rules to make room for more affordable housing, but has stayed mum.

The White House Council of Economic Advisers Chair Cecilia Rouse was one of 81 economists who disagreed with the idea that rent control had a positive impact on affordable housing.

They are well intended, but theoretically they also limit expansions in supply and improvements in quality.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment on whether or not the position has changed.

Many of the critiques are dismissed by rent control advocates as fear-mongering.

Torrejn Chu said that this was about housing being a human right and a necessity over a commodity that should be profited off of. Rent control is a solution that allows for a reasonable regulation of the market.