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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, February 2, 2007

Study of rent control a necessary first step

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Rent control is usually a non-starter when the subject is raised at the Legislature. Traditionally, the idea is seen as an overreach of government power on a landlord's ability to profit.

But this session, as the housing crisis in Hawai'i deepens and affects more people, both the House and Senate have concurrent resolutions, H.C.R. 32 and S.C.R. 5, that direct the Legislative Reference Bureau to study the legality and effectiveness of rent control.

The legislative requests are prudent steps. Before any serious discussion on the issue, lawmakers are right to ask for the facts.

Legislators would benefit from a study to help understand an affordable housing alternative that's been used throughout the United States since World War II. In those days, rent control helped maintain an adequate supply of housing, and prevented the instability and displacement caused by rapid rent increases. But since that time, many municipalities have ended the practice.

Opponents of rent control insist the free market is the best arbiter of rents and should be allowed to work without government interference. Proponents argue that in a market where supply is tight, it's difficult to keep rents from skyrocketing.

But these pros and cons merely scratch the surface when it comes to the full impact rent control would have on the state.

The House and Senate resolutions propose that the study look at how rent control has fared in other cities and consider its feasibility here, with the study's completion by the start of the next session.

By then, the state of our housing crisis should be the key factor on whether rent control merits any serious consideration. For now, as affordability increasingly becomes a concern among many renters in the state, there's no harm in studying the idea thoroughly. In fact, it's a necessary step before the issue goes any further.