Should We Continue Rent Control? — 1950 — Past Daily Reference Room

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Rent Control — lest you think it’s a recent subject for debate, think again. Rent Control has been a subject of considerable debate since roughly World War 1, if not earlier. After World War 1 the shortage of housing, brought on by mass destruction of towns and villages, and the price-gouging by those landlords/property owners who controlled the available housing made introduction of laws controlling just how much rent for suitable living quarters should go for an absolutely necessity.

This episode of American Forum Of The Air debates the Rent Control question as it pertained to the period during World War 2 when defense plants and mass hirings created a surge of housing shortages throughout the country, particularly in urban areas. The debate was over whether national Rent Controls should be relaxed or stay in place.

Cut to some 69 years later and the issue of Rent Control is still very much alive — only now it appears to be for different reasons. In the last few years there has been a dramatic spike in homelessness due largely to out-of-proportion rent increases of existing properties and mass evictions of those tenants living in what were formerly Rent Controlled apartments. Despite the age-old War Years’ legitimate mantra of housing shortage — shortages appear to not be the issue in 2019, but price-gouging is. With an estimated 200,000 empty apartments in Manhattan alone and a number roughly half that in Los Angeles, the issue of Rent Control is once again an issue of intense debate. Supporters of Rent Control argue that rents are too high and can go no higher — detractors say there is a “crying need” for more housing and offer “promises” of affordable housing (whatever is deemed affordable might be) and that the rents will “eventually stabilize” once occupancy reaches a majority figure. Nothing can be further from the truth — because at the time of this broadcast (1950) the issue was truly about a shortage of housing; period. Today it’s an issue of artificially escalated rents in what is erroneously claimed to be “market rate”, while many thousands of apartments continued to stay vacant. In that degree, the argument is considerably different today than it was in 1950.

The most glowing major difference is that the subject of Rent Control today is handled by individual States and cities, while the Rent Control issue in 1950 was one of Federal legislation. Much of the argument here was getting Federal government out of local regulations.

But it still begs the issue — if 2019 Rent Control is implemented, it affects those rents from 2019; the year in which rental prices forced many out of their homes to begin with. It would, in large measure, be cold comfort to those who were forced out by dramatic rent increases not being able to seek any restitution. If the rent on your one-bedroom apartment suddenly went from $750.00 a month to $3500 a month, putting a cap on $3500 will do you no good — the damage has already been done. Unless, as in 1950, the established rent is in effect from a certain date, and could conceivably roll back rents to that date (but with the current atmosphere of state and local government, certainly here in California, it would make that almost impossible).

But suffice to say, the issue of Rent Control has been going on for a very long time — even though the issues have changed an the people involved, the bottom line is quality of life — and that, by all accounts in 2019, seems to be eroding rapidly.

Here is that episode of American Forum of The Air — from May 7, 1950.

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Originally published at on September 3, 2019.




Two-time Grammy nominee, author and archivist of history, news, and popular culture. Runs Past Daily — runs The Gordon Skene Sound Collection. Hardly sleeps.

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Gordon Skene

Gordon Skene

Two-time Grammy nominee, author and archivist of history, news, and popular culture. Runs Past Daily — runs The Gordon Skene Sound Collection. Hardly sleeps.

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