By Nimra Noor, National News Writer
Rent control, which has been a New York phenomenon for decades, is now is becoming more popular elsewhere in the country. According to the Wall Street Journal, rent control seems to be making a retro comeback.
This week in Santa Monica, California, where almost 80 percent of the 93,000 residents live in apartments, voters approved one of the strictest rent‐control laws in the nation. Among the people who campaigned for its passage were Tom Hayden, the antiwar activist, and Ralph Nader, the consumer advocate.
Recently, Los Angeles became the nation’s second largest city after New York, to establish long‐term rent controls. Likewise, four other California cities, including Beverly Hills, have imposed some type of price controls on apartments or mobile home parks that rent spaces.
The recent spread of rent controls, however, has not been limited to California. According to New York Times, Montgomery County in Maryland voted last month to limit rent increases to 10 percent annually for about half the 25,000 apartments in that county. State legislatures in Oregon, New Mexico and Nevada are also considering bills that would allow rent controls, and in numerous cities such as Philadelphia, Minneapolis and Seattle, tenant groups are pushing for enactment of controls.
Historically, rent controls were used extensively in the United States during and immediately after World War II and have their origins in New York City. During the war, labor and material shortages in the construction industry meant that little new housing or apartments were being built, while increasing demand for housing drove up prices drastically at the time. These measures were in place in several cities throughout the 1940’s and most of the 1950’s, but were cut back with the explosion in suburban growth in subsequent decades. The sole exception was New York City, which has kept its rent controls in place for over 75 years.
In contrast to the nation’s largest cities, voters in smaller metropolitan areas such as Madison, Wisconsin, and Long Beach, California have rejected rent control, often after well‐financed campaigns by property owners that have almost inevitably cited the decay of the South Bronx as an example of what rent control would bring. As the issue of rent control is being discussed in Illinois communities and political circles, a senior economist explained in his interview to the Chicago Tribune the primary reason behind the hype. In an interview, he was reported as saying, “You hear about (rent control) a lot more because rents have gotten so high, and rent affordability has deteriorated to the extent where people are really worried about how are they will cope with rising housing costs. Are they going to be able to stay in their communities as long as they want? It’s a very real and tangible concern.”
Real estate professionals and some economists have warned that rent control can promote urban blight, due to reluctance from landlords to repair their buildings, and a shortage of rental housing caused by developers’ unwillingness to build new units. Indeed, economists overall have a negative view of rent control as the policy restricts supply of new housing units while the benefits to tenants tend to disappear over time as the quality of living conditions deteriorates.
“Landlords (in a rent-control environment) stop investing in communities and they stop investing in their own buildings,” said Brian Bernardoni, a real estate lobbyist and senior director of governmental affairs and public policy for the Chicago Association of Realtors. “Rent control may be very popular with voters but it’s a destabilizer of housing stock and is essentially a contributor to rent costs increasing in certain communities.”
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, February 13th print edition.
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