Letter: Rent control should be part of South Portland's solution

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In response to Joel Bamford’s letter “Rent control won’t solve South Portland housing woes,” I agree rent control is not a panacea for economic inequality and lack of affordable housing. The recession gave birth to Generation Rent, a class so numerous we have surpassed the housing supply, and our stable but stagnant incomes cannot meet prices dictated by scarcity.

Bamford says “with rents forcibly kept artificially low more people will move to South Portland and the housing crunch could actually get worse.” Let’s talk about what we mean by artificial. Someone making $30,000 can reasonably afford $765 per month for rent, while a two-­bedroom in South Portland rents for $1,350 per month on average. If consumers cannot afford the going rate, then prices are artificially high, and market regulation would bring them back within affordable reach.

Bamford also suggests “owners of rent-­controlled units are often forced to find other ways to reduce expenses: less maintenance, less upkeep and services.” This thinly veiled threat is intended to keep tenants powerless. It presumes landlords are entitled to the highest possible profits, and unaccountable for the safety of their units. Threatening to neglect maintenance if renters demand affordable rates is a prime example of why we need regulation. Market forces will protect property owners’ profit margins while burdening residents; market regulation will safeguard a space in the community for those with less economic power. Rent control alone won’t solve the problem, but can be part of a concerted, systemic investment in people and communities.

Danielle Layton

  • James Post

    Who does the “systemic investment in people and communities”?

    The author rightly has addressed a problem, but the tone of the article is that we have these wealthy landlords just rolling in cash, and they can afford to have those profits scaled back. Not specifically stated, but the message was clear by the reference to the “highest possible profits”.

    Before I would sign off on the proposal of rent control, I would have to see the details, as to how we achieve a balance of tenants safety and the pursuit of profit by owners.

    For example, what city in this country has a successful rent control program? What city has had a failed rent control program? What can we learn from each experience?

    The devil is in the details, and there is a massive difference between the dictionary concept of rent control, achieving a balance between the tenants’ well being and the legitimate economic interests of the the owners, and the reality of turning every tenants’ monthly rent into a political football.

    I am also curious if Danielle Layton has ever had an investment property, and if the tenants have trashed it, and it has been extremely difficult to evict them.

    The author’s proposal is thus a work in process, and it needs to do more than simply state the problem, and offer a very vague solution.

    • Danielle Layton

      It was tough to put problem+solution in 250 words or less. I am not suggesting that property owners alone foot the bill for the intangible public good such as a vibrant diverse community or a working class that also lives locally. I’m not an expert, but I am a tax payer and I want to continue living in the city where I work, and not in an exclusive homogeneous city where working renters cannot save to buy a house because 50% of their income goes to rent. So here are some ideas for that “concerted systemic investment in community.” Set aside a portion of most buildings for affordable units, in exchange for city or county tax breaks or a subsidy to the landowner. Approve new commercial or multi-family projects contingent on an affordable housing concession. Instead of rent controlling entire buildings retroactively, provision it in advance of project-approval or in conjunction with some other incentive to the owner. Instead of leaning only on property owners to bring prices down, lean on employers to pay living wages. Those are just a few ideas.

      • James Post

        Yes, it is tough to make a detailed proposal when speaking in general terms.

        There are plenty of cities with rent control, and exorbitant rents in spite of, or because of, rent control. As you have stated, it is not a panacea.

        The proposals you state seem reasonable.

        Be aware that if you have tax breaks, some people will call that corporate welfare. Especially if the tax breaks are successful in helping to create a vibrant community, down the road these people will say “this is such a nice area, the landlords/businesses are lucky to be here, and they are enjoying tax breaks”.

        You will hear that the very tax breaks that helped to cause a revival are actually business people getting a free ride to profit from the revival..

  • J Bamf20

    Danielle, nothing in the letter I wrote was intended to be any type of threat. I don’t think that would be helpful towards finding a solution to the housing issues and I apologize if I was unclear. However I do think it is important to discuss the pros and cons of all the potential solutions. I have done some reading on cities that have implemented rent control and I was simply listing one of the potential downsides. Owners absolutely need to be accountable and provide safe units. But there are areas for an owner to save money that would not affect tenant safety. Again, The point of my letter was simply to express that I think in the long run rent control is a bad idea for the city

  • Chew H Bird

    If you loo at the destitute areas of our larger cities that have rent control you will see the path of hardship that ultimately comes when reality is forsaken for “wants” rather than “needs”. Since WW2 people have moved out of cities into areas with a lower cost of living. These are called suburbs. Rent for regular people living in urban environments is out of range for most. Those that do choose to pay the high urban rents often have room mates that share a tiny piece of floor to ease the financial burden. To have Maine cities following the path that has consistently failed for decades makes no sense to me.

    The real solution is in lowering the total cost of living, and that included tax burdens and fees on landlords as well as regular working folks. It includes reducing the cost of government and reducing regulations that drive up the cost of doing business in Maine. There are far more factors than my mind can think of, but implementing rent control is at the bottom of the solution list (in my opinion).