Rent Control Mainly Helps . . . the Affluent

Because I’m a neoliberal shill I’ve never been a big fan of rent control. I figure that if you want to help poor and working-class folks afford the rent in big cities, you should just let the market work normally and then give them money or vouchers or whatnot that they can use toward their rent payments.

What I didn’t know, because this has never been a big hot button for me, is what Adam Serwer calls “a well known result of rent control.” Namely this:

This is from the Wall Street Journal, which says that the biggest beneficiaries of rent control in New York City—by far—are affluent white folks in Manhattan:

Manhattan renters get a steep discount from market rents in the same neighborhood: about $1,000 a month per apartment, up to nearly $2,000 a month in Manhattan’s Upper West Side. In many less affluent working-class neighborhoods, regulated rents are no different than, or only slightly below, market rate rents in the same locale.

….In all of Manhattan, median regulated rents were 53% below median market rates in the borough. In Queens, 8.6% were below market rates; in the Bronx, it was 13.5%; and in Brooklyn it was 16.7%, the analysis found.

….More affluent renters also received a bigger discount from market rent. A typical renter with an income in the top quarter of all New York households paid about $1,650 in rent, compared with $2,700 in rent for a similar renter paying market rents, a discount of 39%. For a renter in the bottom quarter of income the difference was 15%.

White renters in rent-protected apartments benefited more than any other race group, the analysis found, with a discount of 36% from market rates, compared with 16% for black renters and 17% for Hispanic renters.

I guess I’m surprised there isn’t a more stringent income cap on rent control in New York City. It’s one thing to help out the poor and working class, but I’m not sure why landlords should be required to offer reduced rents to affluent folks on the Upper West Side.

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In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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