As renter incomes rise in the District, the upward pressure on rents in rental housing is becoming stronger. This could make policies proposed by the “Reclaim Rent Control” platform seem appropriate, since the immediate impact would be to put more units under rent control and slower rent increases. But the lower rents in rent-controlled buildings are compared to market rate rents, the more likely that housing providers will reduce investments in these buildings, and the higher the temptation to take them out of the rental market entirely by converting them into condominiums. As this study has shown, in addition to lowering valuations and tax revenue, stricter rent control policies can end up aggravating housing affordability crises and increase resident displacement.

Further restricting housing provider income will frustrate the District’s affordability goals. The city has firsthand experience with how expensive affordability can be: The District provides substantial subsidies for the creation and preservation of affordable housing units in addition to a combination of federal and local rent subsidies. These subsidies, when combined, account for more than $175 million of the District’s annual budget. If the District were to go beyond an extension of the current rent stabilization law and enact stricter rent control laws, absent any other supports, the city would simply push the cost of subsidizing affordability from the government’s balance sheet to housing providers’ balance sheets—creating what is essentially an unfunded mandate. And the market will not passively internalize this—the mostly likely outcome will be fewer, and not more, rent-controlled units.

What can the city then do to slow rent growth to get renters into units they can afford?

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D.C. Policy Center Fellows are independent writers, and we gladly encourage the expression of a variety of perspectives. The views of our Fellows, published here or elsewhere, do not reflect the views of the D.C. Policy Center.

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