What rent control could mean for Ann Arbor

Wednesday, October 23, 2019 - 5:14pm

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Design by Christine Jergarl

In order to address the housing crisis in Ann Arbor, stakeholders are proposing innovative solutions to address the issues of affordability and the growing influx of students while maintaining the city’s unique character. Rent control — legislation that sets caps on rents — is one such option the city council is considering. 

Rent control policy has been implemented statewide in California and in a few communities in Maryland and New Jersey to maintain the existing affordable housing and limit disruptions caused by dramatic rent increases.  

Under Michigan law, “A local governmental unit shall not enact, maintain, or enforce an ordinance or resolution that would have the effect of controlling the amount of rent charged for leasing private residential property.”

In an email interview, Jennifer Hall, executive director of the Ann Arbor Housing Commission, told The Daily rent control had previously been proposed in southeastern Michigan decades ago. 

“Rent control was proposed in Ann Arbor and Detroit in the 1980s and the state enacted legislation prohibiting it,” Hall wrote. “I don’t know if it is currently on anyone’s radar to further change the state act.”

Advocates of rent control argue it can limit the effects of gentrification. A recent analysis by the Chicago Policy Review on the effects of rent control policy on San Francisco found that it allowed older, established residents to stay in their apartments longer. However, the analysis also determined the policy could increase gentrification by incentivizing landlords to push tenants out and increase turnover, which was the only time landlords could raise rent prices.  

The estimated average savings for tenants who had rent control were between $2,300 and $6,600 per year from 1995 to 2012. During this time, however, rents in San Francisco rose 5.1 percent, meaning newer, younger tenants shouldered  the costs of higher rents.

In September, Peter Allen, lecturer at the Taubman College of Architecture, Urban Planning and the Ross School of Business, proposed several student-led development solutions to the housing crisis. From his perspective, rent control is only a limit on the new supply of housing because it does not foster private sector investment, he said. 

He pointed to tech companies’ recent pledge in California to invest money and ease the inflated housing prices. Allen described Ann Arbor as a “little version” of Silicon Valley, as it shares characteristics like robust job growth but insufficient addition of housing. Allen emphasized the need for multi-stakeholder solutions in Ann Arbor. 

“We must connect affordability together with the other difficult public policy issues of climate action, mobility and sense of neighborhood,” Allen said. “We must motivate all public landowners to redevelop all surface parking lots or excess public land in and around Ann Arbor into mixed use, transit oriented, dense retail and housing developments that offer rents for the entire job market, starting from $500 per month for a one bedroom. The city’s analysis of all its excess public land like the former Y site next to the Blake Transit Center is a grand start.”

LSA junior Maya Chamra emphasized the importance of her perspective as a student advocate for general affordability in Ann Arbor. She said she believes rent control could be a good option to address the affordability crisis.

“I think that the way the Ann Arbor market is, is that students are always going to be in need of housing,” Chamra said. “Housing is always going to be in demand. At this point I can only see the cost of renting for students to only go up, and there needs to be a way for both the University and the city to get involved such that students don’t have to face another affordability issue while they’re trying to go to college, which is already so expensive.”