Opinion: The Rant on Rent

My previous column, The Rent Isn’t Too Damn High, garnered a number of comments and was the target of some pushback on Twitter and elsewhere. One journalist went so far as to describe me as “history’s greatest monster.”

With that in mind, allow me to clarify: I do not want anyone to be forced out of the District or any other city where the cost of living is high.

The reality, however, is that government can only create so much affordable housing. Too much can have a negative impact on the tax base and economic development. Also, government interference in the housing market has had an inglorious history.

Commenters and critics pointed out that real estate is a regulated market and, as such, the market is not the lone determining factor in housing costs. Yes, very much so. I couldn’t agree more.

For example, the District has strict rent control laws. Census data and an Urban Institute study suggest that more than half of all renters live in rent controlled units. Regardless, some say the rent is too damn high.

Government intervention is not a panacea. At times it is counterproductive.

Building height restrictions in the District prohibit developers from reaching for the sky. The result is a limited number of housing units. Fewer units mean higher prices.

Simple economics.

Uh oh. I said it again. In my prior column, after laying out a brief argument based on supply and demand, I mused “simple economics.” That drew a lot of criticism. But, in fact, the scenario and reasoning I put forth were derived from the laws of economics.

Skewing facts is not my cup of tea.

In general, my goal is to spark a conversation. Sometimes (often) I am purposefully provocative.

For those who wondered if I wrote the column sitting on a perch in the suburbs, no. I live in D.C.

Some readers speculated that I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth or had the great fortune to achieve independent wealth. Both couldn’t be any further from reality. I was raised in a working class family. Digging ditches and wielding a paintbrush were the primary means by which I financed my education. When I first arrived to the D.C. metro area 22 years ago, I moved into a group house. For the next 12 years I continued to live in shared settings. My wife and I have been renters in the same building in Mt. Pleasant for the past 10 years. We started in the basement and now, along with our 6-year-old son, occupy a 900-square-foot, two-bedroom apartment.

I understand that many people are finding it difficult to pay the rent. Negative and (a few) hostile reactions to my column came as no surprise.

Please keep the feedback coming. I will do my best to keep the columns lively. There is no shortage of vexing challenges to confront.

Chuck Thies is a political analyst and consultant.  His columns appear every Tuesday and Thursday on First Read DMV. He co-hosts "DC Politics" on WPFW, 89.3 FM. Since 1991, Chuck has lived in either D.C., Maryland or Virginia. Email your tips and complaints to chuckthies@gmail.com or tweet at @chuckthies.

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