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What's In AOC's National Rent Control Proposal

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York has introduced a bill to the U.S. House of Representatives that would, if enacted, bring rent control — traditionally a local and state matter — to the federal level. It would bring some form of rent control to the vast majority of places nationwide that do not have it.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

The bill, formally known as "A Just Society: A Place to Prosper Act of 2019," would establish a national cap on annual rent increases, restrict evictions and guarantee right to counsel for tenants facing eviction.

Specifically, the Place to Prosper Act calls for a cap of 3% or the annual U.S. Consumer Price Index increase, whichever is greater, for rents in housing markets nationwide. Small-scale landlords (those with fewer than five units) would be excluded. Even so, that is a tighter standard than provided for in a new state rent control law awaiting the governor’s signature in California, City Lab reports.

California's law will limit annual rent increases to 5% a year plus the consumer price index, but no more than 10% annually. It also requires landlords to cite “just cause” for evicting a tenant, such as failing to pay rent or damaging the property. Oregon's statewide cap on rent increases, passed earlier this year, is 7% plus inflation.

Ocasio-Cortez's bill would also make public data that has been previously been the private domain of landlords. Namely, it would force large apartment landlords — those who own 100 or more units in a single market — to disclose their eviction rates, median rental rates, how many and what kind of code violations their properties have incurred, and other data points.

The measure would make it illegal for landlords to discriminate against potential tenants who receive federal housing assistance. Also under the bill, the Department of Housing and Urban Development would oversee a grant program to fund state and local programs offering counsel for tenants in their eviction proceedings.

The Place to Prosper Act also aims to influence local zoning codes by holding back highway funds for jurisdictions not supporting "equitable development," and increasing them for those supporting equitable development. A number of criteria in the bill define equitable development, such as streamlining the approval processes for affordable developments.

Though there is no chance that any of the AOC bills will pass the current Congress — setting aside the impeachment inquiry and the upcoming presidential election, Republicans control the Senate and would oppose the policies — they are seen by supporters and opponents as moving rent control further into the realm of possibility, for good or ill. As populations in the world's cities swell and housing costs spiral, rent control is being heralded as the answer by many housing advocates and politicians. 

"We can ... build popular support in acknowledging how bad the problem already is. In doing so, we can actually begin to fundamentally address those problems," Ocasio-Cortez told NPR.

“The economists are right, and the populists are wrong," the Washington Post wrote in an editorial. "Rent-control laws can be good for some privileged beneficiaries, who are often not the people who really need help. But they are bad for many others."

In Ocasio-Cortez's home of New York, where progressive Democrats passed a sweeping update to the state's rent regulations, apartment landlords have called the measures "devastating" and "irresponsible," and real estate groups are suing to try to overturn the laws in federal court.