For months, the city of Sacramento has been in the throes of a heated debate over the city’s affordable housing problem, its root cause and potential solutions – highlighted by two workshops arranged by the mayor.
At an initial session held Aug. 14, there was general agreement that the root cause is a lack of supply. There also was consensus about the remedy: Build more units, and faster,through new funding sources and incentives to attract private-sector investment.
What went glaringly unsaid is that the surest way to kill new investment in affordable housing is to impose an artificial rent cap on the market, even a temporary one. On Tuesday, the second workshop will shift its focus to whether imposing rent control will help the residents of Sacramento. Decades of evidence says the answer is a resounding no.
Let’s start the debate with two points on which we can all agree: Sacramento faces a serious affordable housing problem, and any solution must include strong tenant protections for working and middle-class families, as well as the elderly, disabled, veterans and young people just starting out.
But we also need to look at the facts and data compiled over many years — that imposing rent control only makes housing problems worse. In June 2000, the liberal economist, Nobel Prize winner and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman wrote about the “adverse side effects” of rent control, citing a poll in which 93 percent of economists surveyed said that rent control “reduces the quality and quantity of housing.” Little has changed since then, with independent analyses corroborating this conclusion, including an oft-cited Stanford University study last year on rent control in San Francisco.
Here in Sacramento, market forces could alter the rent control debate. The U.S. economy’s record expansion is slowing, and Gov. Jerry Brown continues to warn Californians to brace for the inevitable recession. And despite the influx of residents fleeing the Bay area, Sacramento’s housing market is cooling. The research firm Yardi Matrix reported that average rents in Sacramento metro area rose 4.7 percent in July from July 2017, far below levels of recent years.
It’s time for our electedleaders, SEIU, tenants’ organizations and the business community to move beyond rent control and implement policies to build affordable housing, protect tenant rights and encourage builders to invest. This is the only way we can hope to secure Sacramento’s prosperity for future generations.
Caylyn Wright is government affairs director for the Sacramento Association of Realtors and can be contacted firstname.lastname@example.org. Jim Lofgren is senior vice president of the California Apartment Association and can be contacted at JLofgren@caanet.org. They are members of the Citizens for Affordable Housing coalition.