A Case for Rent Control
For years the real estate industry has waged war against the urban poor. Whether through redlining or gentrification, society's most marginalized citizens have been exploited and systematically oppressed for generations. In Salt Lake County this has taken the form of ever increasing rents where in 2000 the average rent of an apartment was $647, by 2019 it had nearly doubled, reaching an average of $1,153¹. This shouldn’t surprise anyone who spends time in the city, where seemingly no matter where you stand you can see luxury apartments under construction. Despite the increasing cost of living wages have continued to stagnate, so much so that the National League of Cities has identified Salt Lake City as a “rent burdened city,”² and seeing as a third of households in Salt Lake County make less than $50,000 this is not much of a surprise³. High rents and low wages are a dangerous combination, leading to housing insecurity and often include evictions.
While solutions to this affordable housing crisis exist, they have been shunned and dismissed by government officials. State government has found it necessary to bar the implementation of a policy that could help those most affected by the affordable housing crisis; rent control. As laid out in Utah code Title 57, Chapter 20, no government body may “enact an ordinance or resolution that would control rents.”4 Despite the undemocratic nature of this legislature, it remains on the books and stands as a barrier to effectively helping low-income families.
Although rent control has been demonized by real estate for years it has continued to live on in several cities across the US, namely New York City. In New York, even as landlords try to “decontrol” rent controlled apartments, a recent study has shown that increasing rent control can be good for cities5. The study, which comes out of the Columbia Business School, shows that the benefits of rent control, specifically the stability and reduced fear of losing housing for low-income renters, outweigh the detriments to the housing market.
You may be thinking “That's great for New York City, but Salt Lake City is nothing like that,” and that's not entirely false. The difference is that New York City has a much more developed real estate market, complete with even higher rents and coupled with just as stagnant wages. Implementing rent control in Salt Lake City will not save our city from being rebuilt as a haven for the wealthy, turning urban living into a privilege available only to the few. What rent control does do is provide stability; a bulwark against the ravages of a market that operates for the few. Rent control helps families stay in place, build a home, and become part of a community. This is important because the future of Salt Lake City can be seen in cities like New York City and Seattle, which all house their own horror stories of families being evicted and displaced as they are forced to choose between shelter and sustenance.
Before we can even begin to imagine a more just city, we must repeal the Draconian legislature leading us towards a future of instability, inequity, and displacement. Jennifer Dailey-Provost, who represents District 24 in the Utah House of Representatives, tried to do just that this past year, putting forward House Bill 1316, which would have repealed the ban on rent control. Unsurprisingly this bill did not pass, and as rents continue to rise the need for such reforms continues to increase. The state again shows that it is not an institution for the people, instead it stands to uphold capitals grip on our lives. We can keep trying to use election to make change but as long as election campaigns are funded by capitalists this route is sure to fail. We must find alternative ways to represent our interests, protect our communities, and fight for justice.
1Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute. (2019).The Salt Lake Apartment Market: An Analysis of Apartment Rental Rates in the Greater Salt Lake Region.Salt Lake City, UT: University of Utah
2Center for City Solutions. (2019). Housing Market Conditions Across America’s Cities.National League of Cities
3Rent and fee control prohibition, Utah Code, 57-20-1.
4U.D. Census Bureau. (2018). ACS 5-Year Estimates Data Profiles.
5Favilukis, J., Mabille, P., & Van Nieuwerburgh, S. (2019). Affordable Housing and City Welfare. Columbia Business School Research Paper No. 18-77.
6Rent Control Jurisdiction Amendments, H.B. 131 (2020), Section 57-20-1.