Housing Costs
Credit: Pat Bagley, The Salt Lake Tribune, UT / CTNewsJunkie via Cagle Cartoons / ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Susan Bigelow

Connecticut’s housing crisis is getting worse every day, with more and more families being priced out of their homes by skyrocketing rent. But landlords tell us that proposed rent caps are unfair to them, and would backfire on everyone, including renters, in the long run. 

I don’t buy it. And even if I did, I’d still be in favor of rent caps. When it comes to a basic human right like housing, we should always be on the side of keeping people in their homes, and not on the side of property owners both big and small who are trying to make money off of them.

Here’s the context: this past week the General Assembly’s Housing Committee held hearings on several pieces of legislation aimed at trying to curb the dramatic increases in rent for apartments and mobile home parks that we’ve seen over the past few years. Among other things, the bills would put a cap on yearly rent increases, and make it so that landlords can’t increase the rent during the first year of someone’s lease. 

Landlords, of course, are not pleased.

John Souza, president of the Connecticut Coalition of Property Owners, delivered testimony to the committee that summed up how a lot of landlords feel about rent caps. Souza argues, rather compellingly, that in response to rent caps landlords will either take apartments off the market by converting them to condos or leaving them empty, or let their buildings fall into disrepair. The end result would be less affordable housing, not more. Instead, Souza encouraged the state to build more housing by relaxing zoning and environmental laws, and raising wages so people can afford rent increases.

I agree that the state should take a hard look at local zoning laws. But when it comes to wages, the state has already been raising them – at least, as far as it can. But the cost of rent, especially over the past few years, has far outpaced any increase in the minimum wage. According to data collected by Apartment List, statewide rental costs have increased from an average of $1,191/month in January, 2017, to $1,532/month in January 2023. That’s an increase of 28%. How many people are making 28% more money than they did in 2017? Not many.

Worse, the majority of that increase has come since the pandemic started in 2020. Families who are already reeling from the stresses of the pandemic and inflation are having to pay more and more of their income to keep a roof over their heads. Anna Barry of New Haven testified that after six years of rent increases “I am literally living paycheck-to-paycheck; and I have a salary and reliable job. If I got fired, I would be houseless in two months if I couldn’t scrape rent together from side jobs.”

For those on fixed incomes, the situation is even more dire. Donna Pichette, 77, testified that her rent was being increased far beyond anything she’d seen. “I am barely getting by. I am not the only one that’s in this situation. Most of the people living here are living on Social Security. Passing this bill would be a great relief to all of us.”

These are just two stories out of many. These people need help now; they can’t afford to wait for new local fair rent commissions to get up and running, or for the slow relaxation of zoning laws to encourage builders to create more housing.

And really, Souza is writing for himself and other small-time property owners who may own one or two buildings. By and large they aren’t the issue – though there are certainly smaller landlords who gouge tenants and refuse to keep their buildings in good condition. But the real problem is huge investment corporations that buy up buildings with little to no thought for the people who live there.

I know property ownership and management is a business. But when the commodity an industry is selling is a basic human right like education, food, water, health care, and housing, then that industry needs to be carefully regulated.

Because when rents skyrocket, who suffers the most? According to a study by the Connecticut Fair Housing Center and the CT Data Collaborative, evictions are disproportionately filed against Black and Hispanic/Latino people, with Black and Hispanic/Latina women even more disproportionately represented. By and large, these are people who don’t have the resources to fight an eviction in court.

They should be our priority. These bills provide us with a stark choice: either landlords bear the brunt of inflation and rising costs, or tenants do. Landlords risk losing money, sure, but tenants risk losing their homes.

Housing is a human right. That’s where we should begin with any discussion of rent caps and tenant protections. The legislature should pass these bills, no matter what the objections from landlords are.

Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.

The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of CTNewsJunkie.com or any of the author's other employers.