Some affordable-housing advocates in the city of Portland are in desperate need of a history lesson. I say this not as an affront, but as a sympathetic warning to the Fair Rent Portland coalition. The initiative they are pushing this November is counterproductive to their cause, antithetical to their stated mission and would be disastrous for middle-income earners in Portland.

Before we begin, let’s get one thing clear: There’s no difference between “rent control” and “rent stabilization.” They may look different on paper, but they are identical in practice. Both create an artificial ceiling on annual rent increases. Brand it what you want, but they are one and the same.

Rent control is a manmade market disruptor that ultimately lowers the availability and affordability of rental units and reduces the quality of housing. In fact, cities where rent control measures have been enacted are among the most expensive in the country, including New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose, California, and Washington, D.C.

I implore supporters of this ordinance to use the Family Budget Calculator developed by the Economic Policy Institute (a liberal think tank) to determine the cost of living in these metro areas. With rent control, this too could be your city.

Economists have long agreed that rent control does more harm than good when it comes to affordable housing. According to a 1992 survey by the American Economic Association, 93 percent of economists agreed that “a ceiling on rents reduces the quality and quantity of housing available.” In another context, this is what progressives call “settled science.”

The reality of rent control is that, once enacted, landlords no longer have incentive to maintain their rental properties. Without being able to raise rent beyond the rate of inflation, landlords have less income for major capital improvements. This maintenance would regularly improve the quality of living for current tenants and draw prospective ones to the city, spurring additional economic activity.


With rent control, units are rented out below market price, enticing low-income renters to stay put. However, because landlords will pay more in regulatory compliance, taxes and insurance than they receive in rent on a controlled unit, they become unable to provide adequate upkeep on the property. The combination of unavailable units and poor upkeep leads to great demand for any available, quality housing in a given city, causing prices to soar. This reality is embodied in a letter to the editor from a Portland landlord recently published in the Portland Press Herald.

As the cost of living continues to balloon, it eventually becomes more fiscally sound for landlords to transition their rental properties into high-end, non-rent-controlled condominiums once low- and middle-income earners have been priced out of the market. This accurately describes what transpired in the rent-controlled cities named above. Today, the areas of these cities with the highest proportion of rent-controlled units are often the most impoverished, markedly emboldening the line between rich and poor.

As it relates to Portland, the initiative being pushed by the Fair Rent group is anything but fair, and there is a great deal of misinformation being spread by prominent members of the community.

The initiative Portland voters will consider establishes a seven-person Rent Board that determines how much rent can increase annually on controlled units. Five members must come from the five different city wards in Portland, and the remaining two seats are for at-large members.

The language of the ordinance recommends the board contain at least four tenants and one landlord, meaning that, by design, renters will have more influence on the board.

During an Aug. 22 appearance on WGAN radio, Mayor Ethan Strimling said, “(Regarding) the tenant-landlord board, I keep hearing different things. The business community thinks that there is only one landlord on it. I think there’s more than that.”


To put it plainly, the mayor is mistaken. Article XII Sec. 6-250 of the proposed ordinance reads:

“The city shall take reasonable steps, but is not required, to appoint to the Rent Board at least one (1) Landlord and at least four (4) tenants.”

Based on this language, the board could be comprised entirely of tenants, as long as the city of Portland can prove it took reasonable steps to ensure representation of at least one landlord.

Portland cannot afford the unfair and disastrous effects of this ordinance. Like most clique progressive initiatives, with rent control, the outcome sought will never be achieved. Government cannot command the free market, and when it tries, it often fails.

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