Housing justice activists have been increasingly pushing for the passage of rent control and the repeal of rent control bans in states and cities all over the country. Rents have skyrocketed the most out of any household expense. The rise of corporate landlords have turned tenants’ lives upside and down. And Big Real Estate has become the most powerful special interest in the United States, with Donald Trump as a prime example. Yet housing still isn’t a top priority for too many progressives. What’s going on here?
For years, while the housing affordability crisis was only worsening across the country, tenant rights barely surfaced on many progressive agendas as compared to healthcare and other issues — even though it is a bigger, more immediate hardship for tens of millions of Americans. They include students, seniors, teachers, low-income workers, recent graduates, working-class families, and people of color.
If people don’t have safe, stable, affordable housing, they can’t maintain good health, they end up living in cars and on the streets, they struggle to achieve in school and at work, and they face many other life-altering impacts.
To make matters worse, certain so-called “progressives” have championed a trickle-down housing agenda pushed by Big Real Estate — the real estate industry shells out millions in campaign contributions.
Those progressives say all we need to do is build a lot more luxury housing for a housing affordability crisis, and rents will eventually drop for the poor and middle- and working-class tenants. But trickle down anything never helps those who need it most, and the poor and middle and working class, who are getting hit hardest by the housing affordability and homelessness crises, can’t afford luxury apartments. They need affordable housing — on the double.
President Joe Biden’s “Renters Bill of Rights” is a step in the right direction, although the details can be debated. But progressive lawmakers must do more by making housing a top legislative priority in Congress, in state houses, and in city halls. And when addressing any emergency — and the housing affordability and homelessness crises are emergencies — it’s crucial to first help the people who need it most. In this case, that’s the poor and middle- and working-class tenants.
To that end, Housing Is A Human Right, the housing advocacy division of AIDS Healthcare Foundation, the world’s largest HIV/AIDS medical-care nonprofit, advocates for the “3 Ps.”
First, policymakers must protect tenants through rent control and other protections. Second, they must preserve existing affordable housing, not demolish it to make way for luxury housing. And third, they must produce new affordable housing, especially low-income and homeless housing.
And before those trickle-down “progressives” try to put down rent control, they should read important studies released by the University of Southern California, UCLA, and UC Berkeley. The researchers all found that rent control is a key tool to stabilize the housing affordability crisis and prevents people from falling into homelessness.
Progressives can no longer allow housing to be a back-burner issue. In 2022, The Guardian found that homeless deaths in 20 U.S. urban areas surged by 77 percent since 2016. And Zillow, the real estate site, found that in cities where people spend more than 32 percent of their take-home pay on rent, a spike in homelessness follows. Housing, in other words, is a matter of life or death. Progressives must make housing a top priority.
Patrick Range McDonald, the author of this article, is the award-winning advocacy journalist for Housing Is A Human Right.