First – I hope you, your family and loved ones are healthy and well. No one expected a global pandemic to the be the defining story of 2020 when the year kicked off, but every aspect of American life – specifically relevant to us, housing affordability – has been refocused through the lens of the health and economic implications of the COVID-19 crisis. As a nation, we are further challenged by unrest due to social inequities. With each of these challenges, safe and stable housing has never been more important.
The truth is, we were already living through a housing affordability crisis before these crises took hold. Even while the economy was humming along, almost half of American households were paying more than 30% of their income on housing. Despite well-intentioned efforts by the federal government to issue emergency assistance and stimulus funds to the American people in the midst of the shutdown, many aren’t able to access suitable replacement income. Americans have continued paying rent to this point, but rent strikes are gaining steam nationally as activists leverage our latest national crisis to push extreme housing policies on property owners and apartment communities.
In the backdrop of it all, the 2020 election is just around the corner. There are only five months to go before November, with potentially massive consequences for the multifamily industry.
A statewide ballot initiative that would expand rent control is already slated for California. After pushing statewide rent control through the legislature last year, the pro-restrictive housing policy crowd is doubling down. In this new environment, they’re gaining supporters. They’re also well-funded. Those who recognize the dangers of rent control have made great strides; last week, 45 labor groups announced their opposition to the ballot measure. It’s clear, though, that a sustained and aggressive effort will be required to defeat this latest initiative.
Similarly, in Massachusetts, lawmakers on a key committee in the state legislature just passed two bills allowing for local governments to impose rent control. Will the trend carry over to other at-risk states like Colorado, Illinois and Washington, where the ground was already fertile for such an effort?
With most Americans desperate for relief in one form or another, the poison pill of rent control could become more palatable for voters at their wit’s end during this crisis and beyond. That is to say, while our immediate concerns should be on working with renters to come up with solutions to the financial hardship that’s struck many of them and keeping communities safe, we also need to keep our eye on the ball for the electoral and legislative battles ahead.
COVID-19 has been like a magnifying glass, bringing new attention to societal challenges that have existed for decades. Housing affordability will not be shielded from scrutiny.
Make no mistake, those who want to see property owners mired in costly, heavy-handed government regulation will use the Coronavirus and the economic crisis it’s created to fuel the fire of the rent control movement. That’s why we also need to commit to waging the heightened battle against rent control in November and in state houses when legislatures convene in 2021. That means continuing to bring thoughtful solutions to the housing crisis to the forefront, while forcefully opposing short-sighted ideas like rent control that do more harm than good.
I look forward to working with each of you in the coming weeks and months, discussing how COVID-19 has changed our footing in this fight and identifying emerging threats to property rights and a healthy American apartment industry. Together, we can successfully push back. But we need to start planning now. If you have further questions about rent control, please do not hesitate to contact Jim Lapides (firstname.lastname@example.org), or visit our resource center at www.nmhc.org/rentcontrol.