“Eight years ago, a New York resident and long-shot gubernatorial candidate named Jimmy McMillan became briefly, rightfully famous on the internet and the late-night talk-show circuit, and not just because of his immaculate facial hair. “The rent is too damn high,” his campaign slogan, inspired memes and a now-defunct political party, but it didn’t just resonate because it was funny.
That slogan, still quoted regularly in news outlets around the country, is as true as ever. And while McMillan’s policy prescriptions were sometimes impractical—he called for reducing all rents to 2001 levels—the issue has recently received more serious treatment from aspiring politicians. In New York, gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon and state Senate candidate Julia Salazar, both Democrats who have affiliated themselves with democratic socialism, are running on expanded rent control policies. And in California this fall, voters will have the power to repeal a law restricting rent control on newer units.
Many American renters are in crisis: The Pew Charitable Trusts found that the share of “rent-burdened” households—those which spent at least a third of pre-tax income on rent—rose from 19 percent in 2001 to 38 percent in 2015. Meanwhile, multiple factors—including the Great Recession, still-stagnant wages, and demographic trends—have caused a steady increase in Americans who rent, to a 50-year high (and a concurrent decline in homeownership). With several of those trends showing no sign of slowing, the percentage of renters likely will continue to rise—and so will the political importance of rent policies.”