A person carries a mattress on their back during a heatwave.

A person carries a mattress from a tent during a sweep of encampments from a street block in "The Zone," a vast homeless encampment where hundreds of people reside, during a record heatwave in Phoenix, Arizona, on July 19, 2023.

(Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images)

An American Nightmare: The Urgent Need for Low-Income Housing

Without government action, we are on a path toward further housing insecurity and income inequality.

In the United States, the struggle to find affordable housing is a pervasive crisis, with millions of low-income individuals and families feeling the weight of rising rent prices. Nearly 20 million Americans who rent—almost half of all renters—are now burdened by housing costs, many for the first time ever.

Between 1999 and 2023, the U.S. saw income growth of 76.8%. Americans have seen rent growth, however, of nearly 135% during that period. As monthly rents grow faster than household incomes, people need rent control more than ever before.

Without the protection of rent control measures, vulnerable populations face dire consequences. The need for low-income housing is critical, and it is high time we recognize that, without government action, we are on a path toward further housing insecurity and income inequality.

The economic and social costs of homelessness far outweigh the potential downsides of well-regulated rent control measures.

Rent control limits the amount by which landlords can raise rent, serving as a crucial safeguard against runaway housing costs. It ensures that communities can maintain economic stability, so low-income households have a fighting chance to secure their livelihoods and keep a roof over their heads. However, rent control is often met with resistance from those who argue it interferes with the free market.

But the reality is that, without a government response, Americans risk deepening economic disparities, with countless low-income individuals and families left lacking a place to call home. Many Americans cannot cope with annual rent increases of almost 30%, par for the course in my home state of Florida.

One of the most alarming consequences of rent control’s absence is the ongoing eviction crisis. Across America, families are living in fear of eviction due to skyrocketing rents. A sudden increase in rent can lead to homelessness, pushing individuals and families into a cycle of instability that can be virtually impossible to break. This is all too common in California.

The real estate website Zillow found that, in cities where the typical renter is overburdened, a surge in homelessness isn’t too far behind, leading to an increase in unhoused individuals dying on the streets.

When a crisis is this dire, people are in desperate need of government action. The economic and social costs of homelessness far outweigh the potential downsides of well-regulated rent control measures.

Moreover, without rent control, low-income individuals and families are left at the mercy of the rental market’s unpredictability. Landlords can raise rents with little restraint, forcing tenants to make impossible choices between paying rent, putting food on the table, or accessing healthcare and education. This level of instability not only harms the well-being of individuals and families, but also undermines the economic resilience of communities.

Communities without rent control are susceptible to rapid gentrification, further exacerbating housing disparities. As affluent individuals and developers move into neighborhoods, property values rise, and long-term residents find themselves priced out. Vulnerable populations are displaced, while the unique cultural and social fabric of these communities is gradually erased.

To address one of America’s most pressing issues, we must come together and prioritize the creation of low-income housing. Investment in affordable housing initiatives, including subsidies, grants, and tax incentives for developers, can help ensure that low-income individuals and families have access to stable, affordable housing options. This, in turn, can mitigate the need for stringent rent control measures.

The most effective antidote to the affordable housing crisis lies in striking a balance between the free market and rent control. Comprehensive rent control policies, if implemented thoughtfully, can prevent excessive rent increases while still allowing landlords to maintain a reasonable return on their investments. Such policies can be tailored to the unique needs of communities, protecting vulnerable renters without stifling the rental market.

Ultimately, the stakes are now too high for further inaction. The absence of rent control jeopardizes people’s well-being, so it is time for a comprehensive approach that combines rent control with a robust investment in low-income housing, ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to secure an affordable, stable, and safe place to live.

Otherwise, we risk pushing our most vulnerable citizens further into the abyss of housing insecurity, where the American dream of a stable home is nothing more than a distant, fading aspiration. And then, the American Dream truly becomes a Halloween nightmare.

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