Part One of this series was a refresher on the Microeconomics of Rent Control and touched on how it encourages hoarding Part Two discussed rent controls influence on the black market for apartments, rental property deterioration and housing discrimination. Here in Part Three, we will discuss how rent control hampers mobility, regional growth, tax revenue, apartment development, and becomes a catalyst for class conflict.
As mentioned in Rent Control Part One, duration of residence in a rent-controlled apartment has been observed to be three times as long as duration at market-rate apartments. One can see that the incentive to hoard rent-controlled apartments is also disincentive to relocate.
The mobility of both the tenants and newcomers are drastically hampered by rent control. Unless the tenant has the money to rent a second apartment (or Governor’s mansion), it will be difficult for him to relocate closer to better employment. The tenant may rather endure a very long commute in order to maintain the rent-controlled apartment. As Walter Block put it, "They are, in a sense, trapped by the gentle and visible hand that keeps them where they are rather than where they might do better."
Difficulties are multiplied if the local economy takes a turn for the worse. A downturn in local employment would not be relieved by people relocating for jobs, thus making the unemployment and poverty situation worse.
Employees looking to relocate in the city with rent control are hurt the worst as they will have a difficult time finding available apartments. The drawbacks to the local economy are discussed in the section on regional growth and adaptation.
The reduction in mobility is especially burdensome on families with children, since public schools tend to be local. If the local school is under performing, a family under rent-control will lose it’s reduced rent if it makes the difficult decision to relocate to an area with better schools. To relocate to a better school, a family would also have to find a new apartment, which would be much more expensive and almost impossible to find.
Regional Growth and Adaptation
The hoarding of rent-controlled apartments makes finding an affordable apartment in the the city with rent-control. Not only is this a burden on the newcomer, this makes it harder for a city’s businesses to attract skilled workers. Employers may decide to relocate to other cities, if their recruits consistently can’t find decent housing.
Often times workers who’s industries have relocated will not relocate in order to maintain the rent controlled apartment. In the long-run, this worker’s family may become a burden on the public assistance system as they may not have the skill sets to quickly pick up another profession that pays as well.
Rent control reduces the market value of regulated rental property. Typically, this negatively effects the assessed property value relative to unregulated properties, decreasing overall property tax revenues and burdening market properties disproportionately. A study of rent control in New York City in the late 80s estimated reduction in taxable assessed property values attributable to rent control at approximately $4 billion, which costs the city approximately $370 million per year in property tax revenues.
Developers would have very little incentive to build affordable housing if they knew the rents they charge were to be restricted by rent control, or were at risk of being regulated in the future. Thus, almost no new stock of middle and lower class housing is built. Instead, developers may only build "luxury" buildings that are often not regulated.
Thus, affordable housing stock will decrease as older buildings become uninhabitable (or are burned to the ground for insurance money) and no new stock is created. Over a long time, the effects the shortage is devastating.
As a side effect, rent control’s effect on development decreases employment in building trades that would have been needed to build housing.
Gentrification and Class Conflict
As mentioned in the section on discrimination, landlords may choose unsavory methods to choose their tenants, since price cannot be a factor. Often, landlords will discriminate against persons of certain ethnicities or religions. This type of discrimination can often be widespread through an area causing tensions between religious or ethnic groups, and in the long-run drive out certain types of people from those areas.
The shortage of affordable housing, and development of only luxury housing a huge gap in the income of a city’s residents. Over time, luxury developments will be confined to certain areas less blighted by rent control, causing segregation and rapid gentrification.
As housing in cities have become less plentiful under rent control and market-rents vary drastically with regulated rents, the incentive grows for landlords to deregulate apartments to market-rates. These tactics have become aggressive as the incentive is extraordinary. A recent NY Times article describe the tension between tenants and management at Stuyvesant Town and Cooper Village in New York:
More than a year after buying Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village in Manhattan for a record-breaking $5.4 billion, Tishman Speyer Properties has accused hundreds of rent-stabilized tenants of living somewhere other than their apartments, a tactic that residents and their lawyers say is part of an aggressive attempt to drive out low-rent tenants to make way for high-rent ones.
…about 800 rent-stabilized leases have been denied renewal because the landlord believed the tenants had a primary residence elsewhere, according to the company. More than 4 in 10 of those cases were later dropped, while 3 in 10 ended with tenants giving up their apartments.
Another example of class conflict caused by rent control discussed in the Market Urbanism blog is an apartment building owner in Manhattan who’s rent controlled tenants tried to prevent his family from living in their own building.
Continue on to Rent Control Part 4: Conclusion and Solutions , which concludes the series on rent control and discuss different policy solutions.
For more reading, see the section on Rent Control to the Links to Articles and Academic Papers page.