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  • Writer's pictureFrank Romans


There is a growing problem with affordable housing. Incomes are not keeping pace with increased costs, and nowhere is it more obvious than the income to rent payment ratios for many Americans.

Is there a fair solution? One that benefits renters without penalizing landlords? If we say, just pay everyone a universal income and let the market take care of rents, wouldn't a landlord just increase rent nullifying the income assistance?

Modern rent controls were first adopted in response to the Great Depression and WWII-era shortages. Because of these shortages and the overall national economic crisis, the federal government called for emergency price control on consumer goods and rent control in 1942. With the current housing shortage and affordability issues, I believe one could argue some type of governmental help is required today, just as it was in 1942. At least as far as it concerns housing.

The state of Pennsylvania, where I reside, has no legislation regarding rent control. However, the state is considered a Dillon Rule state where local municipalities could be given the ability to establish ordinances controlling rent increases so long as the municipality can make a persuasive argument. The whole point of rent control is to keep living-costs affordable for lower-income residents. It makes sense to me that providing housing stability benefits neighborhoods. Most broadly, the key goal of rent-control laws is to maintain existing affordable housing. By limiting rent increases, these laws can also promote stability, at least for residents living in controlled units.

Rent control has likely been around since way before WW II. Julius Caesar enacted a law stating a landlord could not charge more than the ancient Roman equivalent of $100 per year for a home in Rome. This came after a Roman senator appealed to the courts claiming his landlord tried to double his rent and he could no longer pay it.

The most well-known example is in New York City, where a number of rental properties are still controlled under a rent ceiling. Tenancy rent controls (also known as second-generation rent controls) are much more common in the contemporary world. Recently, I heard a story of someone's aunt living in a 3 BR apartment near the Empire State Building for $400 per month. She had lived there since the 1950s. A good score, if you can get it.

Some economists claim rent control diverts new investment, which would otherwise have gone to rental housing, toward greener pastures—greener in terms of consumer need. They have demonstrated that it leads to housing deterioration, fewer repairs, and less maintenance. This also makes sense to me.

All I am saying here is we have a crisis of affordability in housing. No one builds those large subdivisions of tract homes as we saw after the war. I grew up in one of those, as did a whole generation of baby boomers. Unless we're ok with a burgeoning homeless problem, housing must be addressed in some fashion.

This leads me to a discussion of universal income. If we are sincere about addressing poverty, there is no simpler or easier to implement system than a UBI (universal basic income.) It's been tested and proven. Critics say we can't afford it, but I disagree. Just look at the billions wasted in this country, not to mention our bloated military budget.

UBI reduces poverty and income inequality while improving physical and mental health. Scott Santens, Founding Member of the Economic Security Project, says that a UBI set at $1,000 per adult per month and $300 per child per month would entirely eradicate US poverty. Wouldn't that be something?

If the government can find the will to act, housing difficulties can be overcome. Perhaps a hybrid combination of ideas can lead to solutions. Let's put the smart heads together and solve this. Let's do something for the American people. It is long overdue.

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