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Rent Control Will Stabilize California’s Housing Affordability Crisis, Say Experts

In News by Patrick Range McDonald

In recent months, top experts at  USC, UCLA, and UC Berkeley  rolled out important studies that found the same thing:  rent control is a key tool to help stabilize California’s devastating housing affordability crisis. It’s a finding the real estate industry tries to belittle and reporters too often ignore.

In their reports, leading housing, urban planning, and economic experts studied the immediate need and value of implementing rent control policies. The independent analyses found that rent control, which sensibly limits the amount a landlord can raise the rent, can bring urgent relief to millions of Californians who are struggling to pay the rent and make ends meet.

University of Southern California Professor Manuel Pastor, co-author of the USC Dornsife’s Rent Matters report, wrote: “The housing crisis requires a range of strategies, [and] moderate rent regulation is a useful tool to be nested in broader strategy. It has fewer damaging effects than are often imagined, it can address economic pain, and it can promote housing stability. And housing stability matters because it is associated with physical, social, and psychological well-being; higher educational achievement by the young; and benefits for people of color.”

The USC study found that rent control does not increase the rent of non-regulated units, does not impact the construction of new housing, and helps keep rents more affordable for all.

Haas Institute at UC-Berkeley also found that rent control policies are critically important for stabilizing California’s housing market. Dr. Stephen Barton, a former housing director for the City of Berkeley and co-author of the research brief, noted: “When the housing market is as dysfunctional as it is in many parts of California, tenants are effectively subsidizing landlords with rent payments above what a fully competitive market would allow landlords to charge.”

The Luskin Center at UCLA also studied the history of rent control in Los Angeles, diving into the connection between the city’s current housing affordability crisis and unprecedented homelessness. Drawing on history, the report compares today’s housing affordability crisis to the rent increases of the 1970s, noting that people had “something to fall back on — job skills, small savings, or investments.”

Today, wages are not keeping pace with rent increases, and the hardest hit are low-income renters who have no safety net and often end up on the streets. The UCLA report concludes that California must “[take] action to ensure the availability and affordability of rental housing for all income levels… and [allow] local governments to reassert themselves in stabilizing rents.”

Further, UC Berkeley’s Urban Displacement Project notes that extreme rent hikes continually pose a serious threat of eviction and displacement to Bay Area residents.

Contrary to claims by the real estate industry, the experts find that rent control would help bring needed relief to millions of people: seniors, families, recent college graduates, teachers, among many others.

Constant, excessive rent increases are not sustainable as middle- and working-class Californians are already rent-burdened, with many paying over half of their monthly income on housing costs alone. Statewide, between 2000 and 2016, rents have gone up 85 percent while incomes have failed to keep up.

Reining in unfair, excessive rents will boost local economies, cut down on traffic congestion due to long commutes, reduce car emissions, create stable housing for seniors and families, and, ultimately, make our communities more viable where all can thrive.

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