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EDITORIAL: Progressive blinders and the affordable housing debate

Progressives continue to rail about a national “affordable housing crisis” while doing everything possible to burden those attempting to meet demand.

In Minneapolis, for instance, the City Council recently made it illegal for property owners to turn down tenants on the basis of bad credit or eviction history. The measure also limits security deposits.

One landlord told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that he’s “at a loss for how we’re supposed to figure out who the good tenants are and who the bad tenants are.”

The regulations will make it more difficult for landlords — particularly small operators — to screen applications, forcing them to take on risky tenants. That, in turn, will drive up rents and discourage property owners from entering the market, shrinking rental inventory.

Meanwhile, in Seattle, the Pacific Legal Foundation is suing to block similar restrictions. In 2017, Seattle prohibited landlords from declining tenants based on criminal history or running background checks on applicants. Yet landlords remain legally obligated, the suit notes, to protect tenants from potential criminal conduct by third parties.

Again, the practical result of this meddling was to potentially limit the number of rental properties available. Reason.com reported this week that a representative of the Rental Housing Association revealed at a Tuesday press conference that many Seattle landlords now hope to unload their properties. “Seattle’s law may make it more difficult for convicts to find housing,” Christian Britschgi of Reason wrote, “by encouraging landlords to take units off the rental market.”

Finally, Bernie Sanders brought his traveling giveaway lollapalooza to Las Vegas on Saturday and insisted he had the answer to the “affordable housing crisis in Nevada, Vermont and all over this country.”

Predictably, his prescription includes massive tax hikes and dumping copious amounts of gasoline on the fire. A centerpiece of his $2.5 trillion housing plan — comrade Bernie has a multitrillion-dollar federal expansion for every perceived ill — is rent control, additional income redistribution and billions more in Soviet-style government housing projects.

There’s nothing policymakers could do to more effectively exacerbate a housing shortage — short of nationalizing the construction industry or eliminating private property — than embracing Bernie’s stale national rent control plan.

The key to tackling a housing shortage is to encourage the private construction of more housing. That entails easing regulatory burdens and land-use restrictions that make it more difficult for developers to increase supply and prevent landlords from entering the marketplace. Until Bernie and his fellow social justice warriors can resist their dangerous infatuation with central planning and grasp this basic economic reality, they shouldn’t be taken seriously on this issue.

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