Reading Group: The Rent Is Too Damn High

We will be meeting in Mile Square Park, which is a big place. We will be in the northeast quadrant of the park. Check this page for a more specific meeting spot on the day of the event. Please message this page if you have trouble finding the group.

There is paid parking within the park and free street parking around the edges of the park, on Edinger & Euclid. It will be busy on the holiday, so carpooling is recommended. If you are looking for a carpool, message us or post in the comments.

Please bring lawn chairs, blankets, sunscreen, water, food, and anything else you would normally pack for a picnic.

The Rent Is Too Damn High – especially in Orange County, where rents and housing prices have been rising much faster than wage increases. Why is this happening? What can be done?

One explanation that is often given for the increase in the price of housing is supply and demand. While it is certainly true that prices are higher in Southern California than, say, Saskatchewan because more people want to live here, that explanation is not satisfactory for explaining why prices are outstripping people’s ability to pay them.

A supplementary explanation for the increase in housing prices is real estate speculation. Instead of homeowners and renters competing against what other homeowners and renters can afford to pay, they are also competing against what financial institutions can afford to pay – a massive distortion in the market that furthers inequality and extends the control that financial institutions have over your day to day life.

An empty homes tax is one way to disincentivize absentee ownership and speculation. A tax on non-resident homeowners would be another.

As seems to be a common theme, there is also an old California law making the situation worse. The Costa-Hawkins Act has prevented the application of rent control to many houses and apartments in California. Three members of the Assembly have introduced a bill to repeal that law, making local rent control much more feasible, and setting up one of the more important local political fights of 2018.

Lessons from Round One of Costa Hawkins Repeal

Rent control itself is a very large and complex topic, and we’ll talk at the reading group about the many ways it could be implemented. Here is a basic defense of, and introduction to, the idea.

Finally, when we think about issues of housing, we also need to think about what types of new housing should be built and how we want our neighborhoods zoned. Do we want high rise apartments or one story ranches? Do we want mixed use urban spaces or monolithic suburban spaces? The work of Jane Jacobs provides a fascinating starting point for thinking about how we want our urban habitats to look (and can also provide a starting point for discussion of gentrification).