This is the counterpoint in a point/counterpoint on rent control. The point, “Sacramento Needs Rent Control,” can be found here.
We are in the midst of a serious housing shortage in Sacramento. Many residents are struggling to find homes and apartments, and families are under financial stress. The reason for this alarming crisis is simple: We aren’t building enough housing, and demand exceeds supply in every category.
One oft-looked-to solution is rent control. We need greater housing affordability. But the rent control measure being proposed for the November ballot in the City of Sacramento would only make the situation worse. Under rent control, few, if any, new apartments would be available.
Rent control discourages owners from maintaining and improving their property and discourages builders from building more housing units — and drives them to make investments elsewhere. Renters, like me, would be stuck in our old apartments with virtually no choices to move within Midtown or downtown. Construction sites would be deserted, and more buildings would fall into disrepair and decay.
Economists agree that rent control leads to a decline in the quantity and quality of housing. A 2017 study by Stanford University economists found that rent control in San Francisco actually led to an increase in overall rents as the supply of rental housing declined. If that happened here, many residents would be forced to move out of the area. Such an outcome could have a chilling effect on our local economy and the renaissance of our urban core — just as Sacramento is finally developing a vibrant cultural, food and music scene, and just as we are becoming a place where young people can build their lives in a desirable urban landscape.
I fear that the energetic momentum of Sacramento’s infill communities could grind to a halt. New development projects could stop and proposed projects could be delayed. I would hate to see a situation in which we still have the Golden 1 Center and a few bars and restaurants, but with many dilapidated buildings on K Street and in the R Street corridor.
When new employers evaluate relocating to Sacramento’s urban core, they could discover that their employees can’t find housing in Midtown and downtown. Meanwhile, more commuters and longer commutes could exacerbate traffic congestion, suburban sprawl and vehicle pollution. That might spur a building boom in West Sacramento, Roseville, Rancho Cordova and elsewhere, but it would be bad news for Sacramento.
Currently, I live in a two-bedroom, two-bath apartment in a Victorian house in the Alkali Flat neighborhood in downtown. It includes free parking and the rent is affordable with roommates. But in response to the threat of rent control, my landlord could raise my rent immediately by as much as $600 per month, disregarding the fine print in the initiative, which calls for rents to be set at February 2018 levels. If the measure passes, it would be difficult for me to find another apartment as the supply of rental housing would decline. Vacancies of apartments in Midtown and downtown are already extremely low, at less than 3 percent. If I had to move, I would likely only be able to find comparable rent in places like Arden, Rosemont and Orangevale.
There would be many other unintended consequences. What about a black market in illegal subleases? With no other apartments available, renters could be tempted to cash in by subletting their apartments and charging a premium far above their rent to another subtenant. Or more rentals converging to create neighborhoods of short-term lodging like Airbnb, so property owners can avoid rent control all together. And what about the impact of a newly-elected Rent Board, which would set its own pay, hire its own staff and be free to take campaign contributions from special interests?
Everyone deserves decent, affordable housing. We have a homelessness crisis in Sacramento that will only be made worse if the supply of affordable housing continues to decline, as it would under rent control. We need housing. We need more affordable housing.
The solution is more building, creating a greater supply of affordable housing and more future development opportunities. Rent control would throw up a barrier to our continued progress as a place where all residents can thrive. We must reject such a future. If this ill-conceived ballot measure qualifies for the November ballot, we must vote to defeat it and find a better solution to provide housing for all.