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July 29, 2020  

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Housing Prices?

July 29, 2020

Roger Valdez is the director of a housing advocacy organization in Seattle “promoting more housing, of all types, in every neighborhood, and for all levels of income.” In a recent Forbes article, Valdez summarized the results of a study he’s done on the long-term effects of rent control. According to his analysis, rent control policies have historically been introduced as emergency measures...but they have a pesky way of outlasting the crises that prompted them.


Valdez warns that, if we’re not careful, communities may experience something similar with the pandemic:

The endlessly beguiling temptation of trying to fix or democratize prices is once again dancing in front of politicians eager to please during COVID-19 response…


The COVID-19 crisis could end up leading to price controls on housing that outlive the pandemic. Already in many states, including my own state of Washington, state and local government have imposed price freezes on residential and commercial rents. One can easily see, based on the history I cover in the analysis, how these freezes may become permanent, and lead to making eviction bans permanent too.

Rent control is one of those conversations that reminds us of just how complex the affordable housing problem is. In fact, it’s so complex, it probably can’t be called a “problem” at all. As host Abby Kinney says in this week’s episode of Upzoned, problems have solutions; there is no easy solution for the housing crisis.


In this episode, Abby and regular cohost Chuck Marohn, founder and president of Strong Towns, talk about Valdez’s article, about how the housing predicament becomes even more challenging during the pandemic, and how Strong Towns advocates should respond. They discuss the temptation to apply blanket policies to complex systems, the importance of feedback loops, and why we can’t just build our way out of the crisis. They also identify a first step cities can take that would be a quantum leap forward in bringing sanity back to the housing market.


Then in the Downzone, Chuck, still recovering from his boating accident, discusses his recent deep dive into World War II history. And Abby recommends the essential book The Geography of Nowhere, by our friend James Howard Kunstler.

Additional Show Notes: