New report: Rent Control is the only policy tool that can provide immediate relief to renters facing unaffordable rent increases

Barbara Jordan II
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Oregon poised to become first to impose statewide limits on rising rents

“Rent control can immediately provide relief to tenants facing unaffordable rent increases, allowing them to remain in their home and community. This makes it a critical policy to address a crisis that is undermining the economic security, health, and well-being of millions of households across the country,” said Michael McAfee, president and CEO of PolicyLink. “When renters thrive, their families, communities and local economies thrive.”

PolicyLink, along with the Right To The City Alliance and the Center for Popular Democracy released a new report, Our Homes Our Future: How Rent Control Can Build Stable, Healthy Communities, that sheds light on the unprecedented scale of the crisis facing renters and establishes principles for effective rent control policies.

The report comes on the day after the Oregon House of Representatives passed legislation positioning Oregon to become “the first state in the nation to impose statewide limits on how much landlords can raise rents,” writes Mihir Zaveri at the New York Times. “The legislation would generally limit rent increases to 7 percent annually plus the change in the Consumer Price Index, a measure of inflation. Some smaller and newer apartment buildings would be exempt.”

Advocates of rent control in other cities, including Providence, are pushing for similar measures. The Tenant and Homeowner Association (THA), a campaign committee of DARE (Direct Action for Rights and Equality), has crafted an ordinance that would establish rent stabilization in Providence. THA’s proposal “seeks to address rising rents in the city, which are the result of real estate speculation following the foreclosure epidemic, gentrification in neighborhoods like Federal Hill and the West End, and an upsurge in student rentals in neighborhoods from Washington Park to Mount Hope.”

“People who work hard still can’t afford the rents in Providence and they’re going hungry and homeless” said Sonya Lawrence, a DARE member and long-time Providence tenant. “This leads to more crime and neighborhoods getting harder and harder to live in.”

DARE’s rent stabilization ordinance would apply to all private market apartments in the city, with exemptions for luxury and newer developments, and enact a suite of regulations:

  • Limit rent increases to once per year, and only by the percentage increase in the cost of living, (measured by the Consumer Price Index or other appropriate measure) or 4 percent, whichever is less.
  • Mandate that landlords offer tenants a one-year, renewable lease, eliminating “month-to-month” contracts, which currently allow for rent increases and evictions without cause with as little as 30 days notice.
  • Mandate that landlords provide relocation assistance when tenants are displaced without fault (due to renovation, changing use of the unit, landlord move-in, etc), with additional provision for tenants with children under 18, the elderly and disabled.
  • Create a Rent Board, made up of city tenants, landlords, city and state housing officials to adjudicate disputes between landlords and tenants, as well as publish information regarding allowable rent increases and the condition of the private rental market in the city (code violations, eviction data, vacancy rates, etc.)

“Living on a fixed income, my family and I can’t afford to pay for other importance things in our lives: the heating bill, food, and health insurance, when nearly all of our income is going to the rent,” said Erin Clark, a Providence renter in the Elmwood neighborhood.

“I had lived in one home for 17 years, and while I was working two jobs, I could make the rent and the bills,” said Deborah Roscoe. “But, when I became disabled, my bills didn’t change, and some of them got bigger, even though I had to get on SSDI. I had to leave my home of 17 years and have been struggling to make ends meet since.”

The report finds that if rent control policies were passed 37,709 Providence households would have their housing stabilized. Across the country rent control could stabilize 42 million households. The report provides a demographic breakdown of affected communities and indicates that rent control would particularly benefit people of color, low-income communities, seniors, women, and families with children, who compose the majority of the renter and rent-burdened population.

An estimated 6,000 residential eviction cases are filed annually in Rhode Island’s 6th District court alone. The report argues that rent control, particularly when combined with other tenant protections, is the only policy tool that can provide immediate relief to renters facing unaffordable rent increases and, is the most efficient, widespread, and cost-effective solution that policymakers have at their disposal to stabilize communities and protect families.

The new report lays out four fundamental principles for effective rent control policy:

  • Ensure maximum coverage of rental homes: To protect the largest number of tenants, rent control laws should cover most rental dwellings, with minimal exceptions, including single family homes, manufactured homes and both newer and older developments.
  • Pair rent control with robust tenant protections and systems to maintain safe, quality homes including ‘just cause or good cause’ eviction protections, protections against landlord retaliation for tenants and well-designed code enforcement policies.
  • Maximize long-term affordability: New and improved rent control policies should remove vacancy decontrol requirements so they can maintain their affordable rental stock and maintain affordability by tracking inflation or renter income growth.
  • Tenants should play a central role in program design and implementation: The people most impacted by inequities must be engaged in the development and execution of solutions. Tenants who are low-income and/or face discrimination and other barriers to accessing safe, affordable housing, need to be included on rent boards and engaged in developing and implementing policies that benefit and protect them from displacement.

To download the report go to:

[From a DARE press release, other sources as noted]

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  1. Totally agree with the others that commented. Put simply: this law would allow rent to increase 20% in five years.

    When the sky is the limit, we don’t have a roof over our heads.

  2. Edith Pilkington misses the boat. Her proposals call for both a massive destruction of the planetary ecosystems that keep us healthy and the massive displacement of lower income folks. RI housing stock is ancient and in massive need up energy efficiency upgrading. The slum lords are not doing it. A serious program to upgrade housing is absolutely necessary for community survival. Essentially Pilkington is protecting a completely broken system that is killing people now.

  3. This is part of my reply to Greg Gerrit in re: his call for support of Global Warming Solutions Act:

    At Uprise today, Steve put up a post about rent control which came out of The Chairman of the Board of is James O. Gibson, who got his start with the Meyer Foundation, and then moved on to the Rockefeller Foundation. Other board members of PolicyLink have similar backgrounds or have involvement with real estate development.

    There is a lot of older housing stock in Rhode Island. A lot of that stock is wired with knob and tube wiring. Those houses, many of which are tenements, will not be able to be retrofitted as such. This has to be understood by the policy makers involved[that is, the sincere ones who are either uninformed, or misinformed by those who stand to profit].

    What this statute proposes to do[Global Warming Solutions Act] will, at least indirectly, cause many property owners to default and be sent into bankruptcy. We’ve seen this kind of devalorization resulting from Ford Foundation and Rockefeller Foundation urban renewal policies in the ’50s and’60s. PolicyLink wants NO rent control on new rental complexes. Qui bono?[the developers of The Edge College Hill, 44 Hospital St., and other real estate developers also getting tax breaks?]

    Long story short. This is who “qui bono(s)” with the market based proposals currently in the state legislature.

    Rail against all the above players and then I may be able to take you seriously.

    The Lead Hazard Mitigation Act is one of the most corrupt pieces of legislation ever passed. It wasn’t written by Roberta Hazen Aronson but by John Labao, a former inspector of foreclosed property for the banks who confided in me in 2005, at the height of the market, when those who had buildings in historic districts were going out of their minds trying to comply with at least 5 different state and local agencies with conflicting agendas. [He told me things were going to be coming down fast, and they did. How much faster did things come down for those saddled with such vague, poorly thought out mandates that are capriciously enforced in a selective way?] The climate change mitigation proposals are fabricated from the same cloth and will only drive up the cost of rents for the poor. The “social justice” aspect of all these proposals are as disingenuous as they are purposely vague.

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