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Rent control is gaining momentum, but it won't work everywhere

2022 housing market
Posted at 3:09 PM, Apr 21, 2022

BOISE, Idaho — It's no secret that housing and rent prices are out of control. The latest numbers from Zillow show they grew nearly 17% year-over-year in March.

Tram Hoang, the director of policy & research at the Housing Justice Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, says the crisis is not new to a lot of people.

"Yes there is a crisis in this moment, but there's always been a crisis and it's been decades in the making," Hoang said.

Rasheedah Phillips, the director of housing at Policy Link, believes renters are often forgotten when discussing housing.

"Prior to 2015, rent increases were outpacing income growth," she said. "We had a situation where medium rents increased 50% on average across the country— yet incomes remain flat and have declined for lower-income renters."

In the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, where Hoang lives, things are finally changing for renters. There's a push for rent-control housing. Hoang's group refers to it as rent stabilization.

"We now have a very strong rent stabilization policy. It comes into effect on May 1 and I think it's our goal in St. Paul to share how we won with other cities because it's something that needs to exist across the country," Hoang said.

Rent control is when a city or state implements legislation that limits how much a landlord can charge and in most cases what percent the rent can be raised each year. T

California, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Oregon and the District of Columbia have some localities that have adopted rent control laws. States like Illinois, Washington and Colorado currently have bans on rent control but there are efforts underway to change that.

A 2019 report by Policy Link, which advocates for rent control, showed if rent control is adopted by states nationwide, 42 million households could be stabilized.

"I'm from Portland, Oregon and I know that Oregon passed a rent stabilization policy statewide I think in 2019. But it was far too late, right? I had already been priced out of my home state," Hoang said.

While rent control might be a solution in some places, housing experts acknowledge it won't be a solution everywhere.

"Policy Link has also supported a lot of communities who are exploring tenant opportunities to purchase, community opportunity to purchase policies. Policies that will increase community ownership or local ownership of housing. Policies that take housing off of the private market, de-commodify and make it permanently affordable and longtime affordable for that community," Phillips said.

Leap Housing, in Boise Idaho, is an example of a boots-on-the-ground organization currently doing that very work. Bart Cochran, the CEO and founder, explains some nontraditional methods they are trying to meet the housing need in Boise.

"We're here today at Collster United Methodist Church in Northwest Boise, and the pastor would call it a weedy patch of grass at the rear of the parking lot that they've owned for over 100 years," Cochran said.

One project in the works includes partnering with churches to create housing opportunities.

"It just so happens that communities of faith are also some of the largest landholders in the city and not just land, but some of the largest excess landholders," Cochran said.

A third-party group is building affordable homes on the church's empty land and will be able to keep the mortgage price lower for all future owners.

"We believe that homeownership is the crown jewel of poverty alleviation. We just don't believe there is a great asset-building strategy for low-income households than homeownership," Cochran said.

"If you just geographically imagine our country, there are so many pockets in which no protections exist, we need a national agenda with baseline tenant protections," Hoang said.