By Steve Levy
Options for Addressing the Rapid Rise in Regional Rents: More Housing?, Rent Control? Other Solutions?Uploaded: Oct 31, 2015
Rent increases have far outpaced income gains during the economic recovery and are at record levels in terms of affordability. Many residents have had to move as rent increases price them out of where they live today.
This is a problem also for employers as it is harder to find employees who can afford to live in the region if they are not making a very high salary. I spoke at a conference of non-profit human service agencies in San Francisco and this is a problem for them. There are many more examples.
So acknowledging that recent rapid rent increases are a real problem is an important first step but that does not tell us how to address the problem.
I think increasing the supply of apartments and those that are more affordable is critical both for market rate housing and subsidized housing. But it will take time to substantially increase our housing supply.
Currently in the region there is increasing discussion of mandatory measures to limit the rights of property owners with regard to rents. Legally this can only be done in apartment complexes, not single family homes, and only in apartments built before 1995 as I understand the law.
I understand the frustrations behind these measures (a set of ideas were proposed and voted down in Mountain View this month) but I do not favor mandatory rent limitations,
particularly when under current law they benefit renters only in old units (a decreasing share of renters) and leave similar renters in a unit built after 1995 discriminated against.
So are there any options besides simply allowing more apartments to be built.
I do think the first step is for cities in the region to acknowledge the need for more apartments in their planning and zoning.
But in addition cities can adopt incentives that will work to make sure the apartments that are built are best suited to mute the high and rising rents.
Cities could offer incentives such as increased density for developments that have smaller, less expensive apartments.
Cities could offer similar incentives for new housing developments that voluntarily pledge to keep rent increases below a certain level.
And cities can adopt policies that give renters protection against unfair evictions and encourage voluntary mediation activities.
In terms of subsidized housing cities do have the power to adopt fees dedicated to funding subsidized housing. In the Redwood City proposal adopted last week the fee would be waived if the developer added below market rate units voluntarily or gave land for such units or agreed to pay “an area standard wage” would be exempt.
In general cities have the right to require public benefits for projects in many cases so this is an avenue to incentivize the housing that mute rent increases.
Share your ideas. Argue for mandatory rent control policies if you wish but if so address the inequity among similar renters issue I raise. If you don’t think rising rents are a problem, argue your case.
But keep the blog about solutions, not blame.
And respond to the regional issue. This is not a blog focused on Palo Alto although respectful comments about what our city could do are welcome.