A House is Not a Home: Does Rent Control Work?

by Brenna Paul

 

The desirability of urban neighborhoods seems to shift overnight, and many Chicago residents cannot keep up. "From 2013 to 2016, rents on average have increased $500/month in Chicago vs. wages of $125/month” (Smart Assets 2019). Rent control limits how much a landlord can raise a tenant’s rent at the end of their lease and restricts evictions. This policy shields long-time residents from the rising market rate of their units while offering no such protection for any other type of property expense. Illinois has a ban against all rent control policies despite high unemployment rates during the COVID-19 pandemic. While rent control cannot create long-term affordable housing, Illinois cities should be able to enact temporary rent control policies and eviction moratoriums during a housing crisis.


Events such as a recession can accelerate this divide between housing costs and wages. Helena Duncan, a staff member for Lift the Ban Coalition states that “We can build more affordable housing but rent control is a policy that… doesn’t cost anything to implement, and it can keep people in their homes right now.” Rent control costs the government nothing and does keep long-time residents in their homes by redirecting the cost onto private property owners. Rather than risk a profit loss, some owners decide to take their buildings out of the rental market. Following San Francisco’s brief 1994 rent control policy, a study found that “rent-controlled buildings were 8 percentage points more likely to convert to a condo than buildings in the control group” (Diamond, McQuade, and Qian, 2018). Businesses cannot successfully be forced to provide stable, affordable housing without incentive.


A poverty-level income is not a requirement to qualify for rent control. Mike Glasser of the Neighborhood Building Owners Alliance points out that most people would choose to stay in a rent-controlled unit even if they could afford to pay market value.“When they stay, they’re occupying a unit that could be occupied by someone new who needs an affordable unit.” The only way to create affordable housing is to increase its supply and accessibility. Therefore, a rent control policy is best suited to mitigate housing crises when there is a reasonable expectation that most people who receive it will need it.