by Donna Martinez
Former Senior Writer and Editor, John Locke Foundation
Determined to strike out on my own after college, I quickly realized that my eyes were bigger than my paycheck when it came to finding a place to rent. For a time, I shared an apartment with a relative. I could afford half the rent and utilities for a decent place, but not the entire tab. It was a compromise I had to make until I could earn a promotion and a raise.
Having grown up in what we now call a ‘working poor’ family, I didn’t feel cheated out of a nicer or bigger place. I was proud of myself. One of my work friends was from a Union family in the East, and she regularly complained that her rent was too high and that the landlord should be forced to lower it. She was my first Leftist friend. I enjoyed her friendship, but I never understood her political views. It seemed to me that the landlord had every right to charge whatever he wanted for the apartment. If it was too high for the market, he wouldn’t be able to find a tenant. My friend was bewildered by my siding with what she called ‘the suits.’
I think about my situation – and my Leftist friend – whenever I see headlines like this one from National Review.
Here is what’s happening (emphasis is mine):
The rent-control ballot initiative in St. Paul was overshadowed nationally by an effort in neighboring Minneapolis to disband that city’s police force. But while the Minneapolis police initiative went down in flames, left-wing activists on the eastern bank of the Mississippi River succeeded in their effort to cap rent increases at 3 percent annually, including on new construction, a step most communities that have imposed rent-control policies have specifically avoided out of concern that it would discourage future investments.
Investors naturally are inclined to pump money into communities where they have a better opportunity to make a return, and into communities that offer them more flexibility.
In response, people who own rental properties – and those thinking of building new properties – will take a step back, according to the head of the St. Paul Chamber of Commerce. The result? Fewer prospects for people who need housing.
“New construction will not go where it is harder to do business, and rent control will stop new investment that comes in from outside this market,” Kyle said, noting that a recent Minnesota housing task force report found that the state already is well off the pace of building the 300,000 new homes that will be needed by 2030. St. Paul needs to elevate its image to continue attracting investors, Kyle said, and “this does not help.”
But hey, progressives now feel good about themselves, having gone after ‘the suits.’ Local businessman Joe Hughes explained the dynamic that permeated the debate over the initiative:
“We thought the people that voted for it were well-intentioned and were trying to do the right thing, whereas they looked at us as just being non-compassionate, greedy people. That was a frustrating debate to have,” Hughes said. “To think that they’re at a different level morally and ethically and stuff like that is just ridiculous.”
Mr. Hughes is right. Problem is, progressives are happy to claim the high moral ground despite the negative impact on the people they say they’re trying to help.