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'I can't see myself living on my own' | Is rent control the answer to Virginia's affordable housing problems?

Today, tenants in a growing number of states are protected from landlords jacking up rent prices. But rent control is currently prohibited in Virginia.

NORFOLK, Va. — The word on Granby Street in Downtown Norfolk is pretty clear: people say their rent is just too darn high.

"I gotta work more, save up more money," said one man, who rents a single room for $650 a month.

He isn't the only one having to pinch pennies due to rent.

In fact, the average rent increase in 2022 was 14%. According to US Census Bureau data, Virginia ranked as the 5th highest for one-bedroom rent increases across the country in 2022.

"I think there should be a cap where landlords should be able to place [rent] at," the man added.

That cap is known as Rent Control or Rent Stabilization. It exists in just a handful of states across the country: California, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Oregon, Minnesota and Washington, D.C. 

More recently, voters in Orlando, Florida; Portland, Maine, and Santa Monica, California, also chose to place new limits on rent increases. 

The law is currently prohibited in Virginia.

Opposing viewpoints on rent control

"For me there's so much housing insecurity. It isn't an issue to be trifled with. We want people to have shelter. To me, I believe, it's a basic human right," former Norfolk Delegate Jay Jones said. 

Jones adds he believes rent control should be part of an all of the above approach to the 'affordable housing' crisis, but he says there doesn't seem to be the political will in Richmond to address the struggle that so many people are feeling. 

"This should be a bipartisan issue, to come together on this, because Virginians are really dealing with a tough time," Jones adds.

Patrick McCloud, the CEO of The Virginia Apartment Management Association based in Richmond, has a different view.  

RELATED: The lack of affordable housing becomes a growing crisis in Hampton Roads

"Rent control is not the answer," McCloud insists. 

McCloud's group represents more than 260,000 rental units across the Commonwealth. He says anywhere rent control has been tried, it's failed. 

McCloud points to St. Paul, Minnesota, where developers recently stopped building after voters passed rent control. 

In January, St. Paul voters chose on a 53% to 47% margin to impose a 3% cap on rent increases per year, despite the rule not activating until May 22.

The 3% annual cap passed by voters last year, considered one of the strongest rent control measures in the country, will have new regulations and limits.

McCloud further argues that rent control, or rent stabilization, lowers property values for everyone. 

He says rent costs are coming down in Virginia, and more supply would continue to lower them. 

"Everyone has to realize that just like inflation drove up their costs, it drove up costs for landlords," McCloud said.

RELATED: Virginia leaders discuss solutions for lack of affordable housing

Other critics of rent control argue when there's a cap on how much landlords can raise the rent, there are fewer incentives for owners to keep up the property.

One renter in Norfolk told us their unit went up from $1,050 to $1,658 a month, and they claim they were given no explanation and saw no upgrades. Another local renter told us they feel taken advantage of by their landlords.

"That's too much for a two bedroom. You might as well buy a house," one woman told us.

Affordable housing and the labor pool

Peter Shaw, a retired TCC Professor of Business Administration, has another concern about rising rents.

"So, it's in the best interest of local government and the real estate industry to take a close look at the labor pool that's being served and make sure you have affordable housing so they can afford to stay here," Shaw said. 

He added that if people move away to areas where rents are cheaper, they may find jobs there and leave larger cities struggling to fill critical positions.

Meanwhile, back on Granby Street, one frustrated student looks to the future and is discouraged by the cost of rent. 

"I can't see myself living on my own," she told us. "I also do believe that everyone has a right to housing."

Rents are rising, and people are being squeezed.

The answer for many may lie in Richmond, but who will speak truth to power in an election year?



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