We are in a century-long fight against both high rents and housing inequality. The cause? Single family zoning. It started in 1904 when single-family zoning was wrongly enacted in Los Angeles in part to exclude Chinese laundromats. Since then, policies implicitly designed to exclude people of color from affluent areas were enacted in Massachusetts and have survived court challenges. 

Single-family zoning has all but ended the creation of new rental housing. The constrained supply has made housing increasingly unaffordable for many of us, especially residents of color, just as it was intended to do. Rather than cut the strings of racist zoning, our elected officials seem bound, marionette-like, to dance around false hopes like rent control.  

We tried rent control in Massachusetts for a couple of decades in Boston, Brookline and Cambridge. (Cambridge’s regime was so bizarre and unfair we have hired an archivist to digitize and publish the records from those years!) Suffice it to say landlords hated rent control. It reduced housing quality and quantity. We repealed it. Academics studied us.  

In 2007, Brigham Young University professor David Sims found that during rent control in Cambridge, only 12 percent of rental housing went to renters of color, despite 24 percent of rent controlled towns being residents of color. How can this be? Heikki Loikkanen of the University of Finland had already predicted it with his seminal paper, “On Availability Discrimination under Rent Control.” Basically, landlords with thin margins under rent control hold apartments vacant longer waiting for a perfect applicant.  

In America – and Massachusetts, no less – we have a Black-white gap on all metrics relevant on a rental application. The Economic Policy Institute shows that median household income is $41,692 for Black households but $70,642 for white households. ApartmentList shows Black households are twice as likely to be evicted as white households. The Urban Institute shows 21 percent of Black households have a FICO credit score above 700, whereas 50 percent of white households do. And a report from the Sentencing Project shows African Americans constitute 53 percent of drug convictions, despite representing 14 percent of drug users.  

Applicants of color cannot compete in a market made even more restrictive by rent control. Let us create more rental housing to solve both high rents and housing inequality. 

— Doug Quattrochi is executive director of MassLandlords Inc.

Rent Stabilization Is a False Hope

by Banker & Tradesman time to read: 2 min