Are rent control advocates similar to climate change deniers?

Contra Costa judge to review arguments against Richmond rent control

Advocates for rent control — a policy that Richmond voters will decide upon in the November election — are similar to climate change deniers in that they ignore overwhelming consensus by experts on the issue, said Richmond Mayor Tom Butt.

In making the argument, the mayor referenced a recent San Francisco Chronicle article, “Rent control spreading to Bay Area suburbs, to economists’ dismay.”

“It has been widely reported that 97 percent of informed scientists who have an opinion agree that global warming is real and that it results from human activity,” Butt said in reaction to the article. “In a survey of respected economists, the percentage of those having an opinion that rent control doesn’t work was even higher at slightly over 97 percent.”

The discussion comes as Richmond voters face the decision Nov. 8 on whether to implement rent control and just cause for eviction policies in the city. To view the full policy proposal, go here. In brief, the proposal would cap permissible rent increases to the Consumer Price Index, which would be determined annually by a Richmond rent board. Due to state law, multifamily homes built after February 1995 and single-family homes would be exempted from rent control.

The Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA) has been working with tenant advocacy groups for a few years to push for a rent control policy in the city. A similar policy is being considered in five other Bay Area cities amid a technology boom that has led to a housing shortage and rising rents.

While Mayor Butt believes increasing the housing supply is a better way to address rising rents, tenant advocates believe that isn’t enough. They say rent control is required to keep low-income residents from being displaced from their homes.

But groups like the RPA have both ignored and denied warnings by a vast majority of economists that rent control is a failed policy.

“The concept of rent control, once found mostly in large cities, is spreading to the Bay Area’s suburbs, even though virtually every economist thinks it’s a bad idea,” the Chronicle’s article states.

The policy hasn’t been adopted by another jurisdiction in decades, and it hasn’t worked to prevent skyrocketing rents in the cities that currently employ it, including San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley, critics point out.

Economists also say the policy discourages landlords from investing in improvements on their properties, potentially leading to blight.

In 2013, Peter Tatian of the Urban Institute found “very little evidence that rent control is a good policy,” according to the Chronicle. He found a comprehensive survey stating “tenants in noncontrolled units pay higher rents than they would without the presence of rent control; one reason being that landlords need to make up the difference for lower rents in controlled units.”

Also, rent control protects high earners as well as low earners, since “you can be making $150,000 a year” and decide never to leave your rent controlled unit.

“All of a sudden there is no trickle effect. No working-class family will ever get that unit,” Thomas Bannon, CEO of the California Apartment Association, was quoted as saying in the Chronicle.

The newspaper also referenced a 2012 survey of economists by the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. Asked if they agreed that rent-control in cities like New York and San Francisco have improved the quantity and quality of affordable rental housing over three decades, 81-percent of surveyed economists disagreed, 2-percent agreed and 9-percent were uncertain or had no opinion.

That, however, hasn’t changed minds among rent control advocates. At Tuesday’s Richmond City Council meeting, the RPA and fellow advocates will attempt to pass a moratorium on evictions and “high” rent increases until voters decide on their policy proposal in November. Butt says the proposed moratorium will most likely fail due to a lack of votes.


  1. It is so incredibly frustrating to present an argument that is based on facts, data, and consensus and have it ignored or dismissed without any logical counter-argument. The RPA’s (and other supporters of rent control) insistence on ignoring reality reminds me of religious fundamentalism.

  2. RPA and surrogates are mobilizing their forces to attend City Council meeting this Tuesday ( 09/13/2016 at 6 pm). They will try to intimidate the opposing council members into voting for immediate rent increase and eviction MORATORIUM effective till election. This despite the fact that they don’t have 6 necessary votes to pass this emergency measure, and they very well know it. However they will do it for purely political reason, as the RPA is trying to install 2 more of their own on the Council (Willis and Choi) and Myrick would sell his soul to get reelected too.
    It is important for the opponents of rent control to attend this meeting and speak in opposition, to counteract this RPA mob tactic.

  3. The problem with rent control is that it will be about as an effective policy to control rents as the RPA’S policy towards the Berkeley Global Campus was to help raise funding. The shame of it is that because of the RPA’S insistence on extremism, they blew an opportunity to turn widespread agreement against price gouging into a reasonable form of rent control that all sides could agree upon. Even the City Manager agreed the other options would have been a better starting point. Even Nat Bates said no one wanted price gouging, but there has to be a way to deal with that without the extreme measures. They may get their way yet and pass this extreme measure but renters are going to be quite disappointed when the unintended consequences of rent control that are well known and much discussed and yet have fallen on deaf ears of rent control advocates, turn out to not work out in their favor as they had hoped. Just look at Berkeley Oakland and San Francisco where they keep ratcheting up the rent control measures and wondering why rents keep rising and it keeps getting harder and harder for people to find an apartment. Good luck to you finding an apartment if this measure passes and you are not a grade A tenant. No one is going to take a chance anymore on an iffy tenant, their risks are too high under this measure.

  4. Catherine Montalbo,
    Yes the RPA is more like an extremist religious cult than people realize. Their unwillingness to compromise and to consider other points of view that is so necessary in government. The inability to take a critical look at themselves and/or admit they may have made mistakes or been wrong about something. These are traits of fringe cults not governing bodies of a democracy, and not something we want running our city council.
    I urge voters to do some critical thinking and not simply knee jerk pull the handle because of the words ‘progressive’ or even ‘Sanders’. Group think mentality will not best serve the interests of all our citizens. History will tell you so. Choose wisely.

  5. You touched on one of my two major problems with rent control:
    As you mentioned, tenant advocates always say that rent control “is required to keep low-income residents from being displaced from their homes.”
    And then they allow NO “Means Testing” to qualify for rent control. It becomes a benefit for every renter.
    This is crazy. I am renting to two techies who earn over $200K combined, and they are taking advantage of rent control.
    My other issue is that “Rent Control / Affordable Housing” is a society problem. Any measures to help THOSE WHO NEED IT, should be paid for by everyone, not a small number of housing providers.

  6. I find it totally incomprehensible that the RPA has blocked all opportunities for redevelopment in Richmond that would have brought better jobs and housing (e.g. point molate, the casino/convention center, LBNL, Berkeley Global Campus, etc), to do all they can to promote insubstantial ordinances that are of no benefit to anyone and damaging to everyone (eg. Rent Control and Just Cause).

    Even a moron knows that without development there is no new housing and Rent Control and Just Cause measures just deplete an already strained market as landlords leave the market due to rising cost and unreasonable restraints to operate. Goodbye renters.