After a long period of neglect, a new generation of policymakers and activists has embraced rent control as a solution to the housing affordability crisis plaguing America’s booming coastal cities. The national median rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $1,209 a month, but for some metro
areas it is considerably higher. Urban residents suffering from the highest rents are mostly in wealthy, coastal cities, such as San Francisco ($3,500),
New York City ($2,860), San Jose ($2,480), Los Angeles ($2,360), Oakland ($2,100), and Washington, D.C. ($2,160). In addition to sharing astronomically high rents, these cities also share another feature: rent control.
Rent-control regimes have operated in these six cities for the better part of 30 years, and they exist also in a host of smaller cities, chiefly in California, Maryland, and New Jersey. Undergraduate Economics 101 would have you think that rent control is essentially a rent freeze, but the reality is that rent control as practiced today has evolved into a far more complex system. The vast majority of today’s rent controls were instituted in the 1970s and early 1980s in response to the stagflation crisis, and are often referred to as rent stabilization, tenancy rent control, or second-generation rent control to distinguish themselves from their much-maligned predecessor. Since these modern forms are really the only game in town, I refer to them herein as just rent control.