The lack of affordable rental properties in Rhode Island is front-page news in the Providence Journal, today. The article is entirely a description of the problem, without any suggestions that the government must act to supplement housing or anything (although those story lines tend to develop across multiple articles, like this one):
HousingWorks, a nonprofit research group, planned to release data Wednesday showing that 59 percent of the state’s young renters spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing. Housing is deemed affordable if it costs no more than 30 percent of income. …
The HousingWorks analysis also showed that 25- to 44-year-olds make up 40 percent of Rhode Island’s renter population, the largest share of renter households. With a median income of $40,000, 45 percent of these households are housing cost burdened, but they “earn far less than the $57,000 needed to afford the median-priced single-family home [$190,000] in Rhode Island,” Housing Works said.
What is the cause, here? Are landlords taking advantage and gouging renters? Can the government step in with more restrictions and demands to fix the situation? I’d suggest that government involvement is causing problems on both sides of the equation.
On the demand side, Rhode Island’s high taxes and crushing regulatory burden, mixed with generous benefits for lower-income households are skewing income levels lower. As the productive class moves away to places that actually have those Rhode Island rarities of jobs and opportunity, the imbalance gets worse.
On the supply side, it’s just not very attractive to rent properties in Rhode Island. Here’s one example: I just discovered that prospective landlords have to take a three-hour, $50 course on lead paint and pay a lead inspector to look through the property at least every two years. The way the instructions are written, it doesn’t look like it matters whether the landlord has removed all lead paint from the house; it’s all about the age of the building. Meanwhile, acquaintances who’ve tried renting properties in the past tell horror stories about the difficulty of evicting bad tenants.
The list of thumbs on the scales would have to be the subject of a research article, not a quick blog post, but every layer of mandates sheds some people and some properties from the group of potential rentals, the redistributionist bent of state government pushes demographics to the range that requires cheaper housing, and the lack of opportunity ensures that families are slow to move out of the low-income strata and that the go-getter types who might venture into renting out property go elsewhere.