Commentary: Rent control no solution for Oakland’s problems

Oakland’s rent control measures on the November ballot will only exacerbate Oakland housing problems. - Written by Nathan Durham-Hammer - Posted Oct 28, 2016

Oakland City Attorney Barbara J. Parker is right about one thing — Oakland’s rent control laws must be changed. (“Rent control laws must be changed to help Oaklanders,” opinion, Oct. 11).

Unfortunately for Oakland, her personal opinions and theories about how and why are wrong:

  1. Asking rents in vacant or non-rent controlled apartments have been rapidly accelerating, but rents have not accelerated in rent-controlled apartments, which creates socially inequitable discrepancies between residents’ housing costs.
  2. The idea that our neighbors and friends are being forced out comes from the loudest voice in the council chamber, from well-funded corporate non-profits calling themselves tenant protection advocates. Their claims are too frequently political propaganda that lack true data as validation, and I encourage folks to double-check the misleading whereas clauses being used as bases for housing policy changes.
  3. Where is Parker’s evidence that more rent controls prevent homelessness?
  4. Home prices are relatively higher than average rents relative to average income, and it is far more difficult to buy than to rent in Oakland. Small owner-occupants of rental properties are often under severe financial pressure to sustain their homes.
  5. Protecting renters reduces diversity. Special treatment for long-term renters is potentially discriminatory against everyone who did not secure rent-controlled housing years ago.
  6. Rent-controlled rent increases in Oakland mathematically reduce rents over time relative to rising costs of maintenance, repairs, utilities, capital improvements and inflation.
  7. Rent control causes a lack of supply, and vacancy or non-rent controlled rents are set far above where they would be in an unrestricted rental market. Reality is that rent control is at the core of the problems that accelerate housing costs and threaten to displace residents.
  8. A rent increase under rent control is anything but an eviction at about 2 percent per year, generally far less than the increases in operating costs that are required to provide decent housing.
  9. Rent control may force small owners out of Oakland, many of whom are teachers, elderly and people of color.
  10. And, by the way, the Fair Housing Act of 1968 prevents ethnicity, religion and personal preference from being considered at all in housing, despite historical discrimination and/or entrenched racism. Race and housing policy cannot be lawfully intertwined.

As city attorney, Parker’s role is intended to be impartial and to act as a check on potentially unlawful policy put forth by City Council. The city attorney’s role is to act in the best interests of Oakland, its client, but not necessarily to “defend Oakland’s progressive policies.”

Rent control was instituted in Oakland in the name of an emergency, sound familiar? That so-called emergency occurred decades ago. Rent control is now a sacred cow that worsens the housing shortage and accelerates the existential threats to Oakland’s diversity.

Oakland’s current policies are regressive and unfairly harmful to thousands of residents, including small owners. See, for example, San Francisco, Berkeley, Stockholm, Berlin, Massachusetts, New York and Seattle to learn about rent control, affordability, housing deterioration and housing density in urban centers. You’ll find rent control reduces affordability, deteriorates tenants’ living conditions, and leads to the exodus of residents without financial means. Without means testing, rent control is a socially inequitable redistribution and involuntary private subsidy that benefits a fortunate few, without any showing of need for individual housing assistance.

The solution to a housing shortage is to build more housing, around public transit hubs, for rent and for purchase, for all income levels.

Nathan Durham-Hammer is an EBRHA member, lifelong Oakland resident and four-unit rental property owner-occupant. 

Source: East Bay Times

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