What John Oliver Gets Wrong About Rising Rents

“Rising rents are a very real phenomenon driven by a mismatch in many cities between the number of homes that are being built and the number of people who would like to live in them. The wedge between supply and demand is created by cities’ elaborate zoning codes, price regulations, and permitting processes that all combine to reduce housing availability and raise prices.

It should be no surprise that rents are high when a majority of land in major cities is off-limits to new development, it takes years to approve whatever new housing is allowed, and some of those new units have to be given away at below-market rates.

The details of these restrictions are a wonky topic, to be sure. One expects only so much depth or insight from a comedic explanation of it all. But even allowing for that handicap, Oliver’s treatment of the housing supply issue proves to be superficial, brief, and confused.

Oliver either misunderstands or fails to explore the link between government regulation, housing supply, and housing market outcomes. His perfunctory explanation of it serves only as a brief prelude to his attack on the real villains in his story: greedy private landlords with carte blanche to raise rents and evict tenants.

The solutions he puts forward, therefore, have little to do with eliminating needless, harmful regulatory barriers to new supply. Instead, he calls for legally constraining landlords’ ability to raise rents and evict tenants and declaring housing a federally funded, government-provided right.”

“building new housing, even high-end housing, improves affordability for everyone by absorbing the demand of high-income renters, who are no longer bidding up the costs of older, naturally cheaper housing units. A growing body of empirical research shows this is a fact, not a free market fantasy.”