Kill City Rent Control Panel, Fatten City Coffers, Build Needed Housing

By John Koenigshofer
Tuesday May 11, 2004

As our city struggles with budget shortfalls, one fat sacred cow continues to gorge itself at the public trough. The mayor and the City Council willfully ignore it, tip-toeing around this bloated bovine for fear of awakening a stampede of crushing political correctness. 

This beast consumes over $3 million of public money each year enforcing a program and sustaining a bureaucracy that is counter-productive and unfair. 

I am speaking of the Rent Stabilization Board. 

The money collected from Berkeley citizens to sustain the Rent Board would be better used to augment affordable housing programs and maintain other important social programs currently on the budget chopping block. 

We must not waste public funds on unfair and unneeded programs. 

Rent control is unfair in two fundamental ways. First, because there is no means testing, the benefit of rent control goes to individuals at random. The failure to determine who actually needs this subsidy creates a situation wherein individuals of lesser means may be compelled to give subsidies to individuals of greater means. 

Why not means testing? When this question is put to rent board officials they respond that “means testing is illegal.” How can this be? All levels of government engage in means testing to determine who should receive housing, medical, food and other subsidies. Why is the Rent Board really opposed to means testing?  

Secondly, rent control is unfair because it compels a small portion of our citizens to bear the entire burden of this social subsidy program. It is right and good for society to assist its weaker and needy members. It is wrong for the collective to foist that responsibility onto one small group. If Berkeley wishes to provide a housing subsidy program in addition to existing state and federal programs then all citizens should contribute to such a program, not merely housing providers. Of course, we must make sure such benefits go to those who need them.  

Rent control is not needed. State legislative changes compelled the rent board to loosen its grip on the housing stock. This partial deregulation allowed market forces to be activated resulting in new housing and thus a decrease in demand. The open market worked—rents declined and vacancies increased. Rent does not need to be “stabilized.” Rent control degraded our housing and caused a decline in the number of units. Rent control contributed to the housing shortage in the first place. It is counter productive and archaic. 

Why not use the Rent Board’s budget to build more affordable housing and /or as rent subsidies earmarked for those who are truly needy. As it stands now, every member of the rent board receives the benefit of rent control. Each of them enjoys housing subsidies with no way to determine if they need such subsidies. Perhaps this is why the Rent Board dismisses means testing so quickly! 

It is ironic that Berkeley, a city usually dedicated to fairness and thoughtfulness has maintained such an unfair and counter productive program for so long. We can no longer tolerate this voracious sacred cow, it is time to take it to the chopping block.  


John Koenigshofer is a Berkeley resident.