The flurry of editorial criticism to the proposal to cut-off federal funds to cities with rent control has sparked honest debate on the causes of our housing problem in Los Angeles.
It is most encouraging to read editorial acknowledgement of the key role rent control has played in creating the housing shortage. The editorial "Boldness on Housing" (Jan. 11) admits that rent control is "generally unproductive," that it discourages new construction and contributes to the degeneration of our housing stock. Even Robert Kuttner's article ("We Need More Housing, Not a Federal Attack on Local Rent-Control Laws," Op-Ed Page, Jan. 12) concedes that rent control "depresses new construction."
These observations are accurate and confirm the experiences of owners, renters and homeless alike throughout the 1980s. Rent control creates disincentives to build new housing and to maintain existing units. Under rent control, low-income housing fills up with middle-income residents who know a good thing when they see it--and stay put. It should come as no surprise that of the 10 U.S. cities with the greatest homeless population, nine practice some form of rent control.
Federal funds are seen as the cure for these housing ills, and a cutoff in such funding is called a threat to our local autonomy. The only sure way to lose local independence is to nurture local dependence upon the federal government. Funds for housing are critically needed, but the shackles must be removed from private industry for the crisis to be effectively solved.