The debate over rent control in Longmont is beginning to brew, as city council candidates such as myself, my opponent Schuyler Trowbridge and Ward III candidate Susie-Hidalgo Fahring all express more openness to the concept than the current city council. Residents of Longmont are polarized on the issue on various points, including whether or not it’s necessary, whether or not it’s effective, and whether or not it’s morally right. There are multiple definitions of rent control out in the wild, but I’m talking about making it so landlords cannot raise rents after a tenant has already been renting.
For my money, the easiest part is if it’s necessary. Housing costs have risen more ridiculously than any other costs in the last decade. While city council’s multiple efforts to increase affordable housing are great, they aren’t going to work forever. When you increase the number of units on a street, you have to increase that street’s capacity to increase traffic. But more and more that tends to mean building into people’s yards or even their bedrooms. Every week it seems like we have a new neighborhood that is angry that city council approved a project that makes it harder for them to live. Clearly, we need to do something about the prices of housing already available, as increasing supply cannot be the only solution.
If housing costs have risen faster than everything else, they’ve also risen faster than the costs that go into housing. This means that landlords are making a bigger profit than before, while living here becomes harder and harder for the poor. So, the real problem isn’t that housing is costly to supply, it’s that in a system of high demand and low supply, suppliers can price gouge for greater profits. For something as important and universal as housing, that shouldn’t be allowed, either in the long-term or the short-term.
Government power is nobody’s first choice, but the Founders knew that it was important to make sure that the welfare of the state was taken care of and make sure its citizens could reasonable acquire basic needs so that they could live a normal life. Thomas Jefferson wanted to make all Americans landowners, so he probably wouldn’t mind a regulation aimed at making it more affordable to be a renter.
Probably the most contentious element of this discussion is the effectiveness of rent control. The question is the same as with all discussions of taxing or regulating the rich and corporations. With a disincentive to put housing in Longmont, landlords and developers may try to find a loophole or take their business elsewhere. City council is already creating an incentive system for a portion of housing to be affordable and it’s been successful so far. Clearly, a law turning that incentive into a requirement would probably succeed too. As for loopholes, it is always possible for the city to close those loopholes. As long as Longmont is a major market for housing (nearly 100,000 residents will probably do), as long as the logistics are there, there will always be suppliers. We should have the leverage, not them.
The most important thing for me is whether or not rent control is the right thing to do. An apartment is not a hotel. People intend to rent until they need to move out for some other reason. So when a landlord raises somebody’s rent, they will either be forced to take it in the mouth, or they will need to move away and look for an alternative on the increasingly ridiculous housing market. They may need to leave Longmont, or even the whole front range. All this to serve a marginal element of a landlord’s private property rights. I’m not even talking about what the initial price is, all I’m saying is that when a richer person has this much disproportionate leverage over somebody else, the government should step in so everybody is playing on a level playing field. Perhaps for luxury condominiums this doesn’t apply, but for apartments aimed at the poor and middle class, landlords shouldn’t be able to take advantage of their tenants like that. It’s just not the right thing to do.
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