By Christian Davis
As students move out of dorm rooms and into apartments this summer, they enter a housing market that will cost them more and give them less because of misguided and onerous regulations. And the situation shows little hope of improvement.
More than half of San Diego residents live in an apartment or other rental home. Historically, renting has been an affordable stepping stone for many people while they save to purchase a place of their own.
But this pathway to homeownership is changing with a demand for existing apartments at an all-time high and rents increasing with this fierce competition.
The chorus of voices calling for change has grown louder than ever. In response, cities throughout our county have taken steps to ease the pipeline to development and spur new building. Advocates have also called for increased density near transit.
Unfortunately, not all of the proposed changes are positive. Some of the proposed regulations would create additional operating costs and restrictions on landlords at all levels, further increasing the cost of living in San Diego.
Recently, communities have seen new calls for counter-productive policies, including rent control. Like using a garden hose on a wildfire, narrowly focusing on the problem right in front of you ignores the catastrophe all around.
Rather than address the root causes of our crisis, namely a major housing shortage, rent control proponents want to put an arbitrary cap on how much businesses can charge for their product. How would you feel if your boss told you that because of a new law, your salary was locked in and could not improve no matter your level of effort?
Cities that have adopted broad rent control policies have become the most unaffordable areas in our country. After the policies took effect, these places — such as New York City — still top the lists of highest cost of living for homeowners and renters alike.
In the end, all rent control does is exacerbate our housing crisis by further limiting supply.
Another recent policy proposal would mandate participation in Section 8, the federal affordable housing program. This would restrict the revenue generated from a rental unit and could drive owners to convert apartments into condos, further constricting the rental housing market at a time when more homes are needed. Beyond the impacts on unit price, this approach could pose a major administrative and compliance headache.
Although large apartment communities grab attention, many of our local landlords are mom-and-pop operations — people who manage property as a source of additional income or for retirement funding. These owners are not eager to add a new mountain of paperwork to their operation and may not be appropriately equipped to navigate the complex compliance rules.
The federal government should consider ways to incentive participation from property owners and simplify the processes. This will not only make participating in the programs more appealing, but also lessen the burdens on the housing authorities who must manage these complicated programs.
Not all hope is lost. Positive change is happening to rebalance the scale of supply and demand to lower home and rental prices.
Some recent legislative changes may signal a regulatory sea change.
Additional progress has been made in the city of San Diego, as restrictions on add-on units — so-called “granny flats” — have been eased. This may allow for new housing stock to enter the market at a time when it is most needed.
Matching the number of housing units to the number of residents will improve our housing market and help to reduce our regional homeless population.
Homeowners, renters, visitors and residents of all ages are impacted by our housing crisis. If you live in our county and want to stay, you too are a housing advocate. Rent control and other misguided regulatory burdens will not solve this problem.
For concerned citizens, a mantra has developed: we must build our way out of this crisis.
—Christian Davis is the president of the San Diego County Apartment Association, and a vice president at Pinnacle Property Management, LLC.