Web Accessibility Support

Howard University Research Reveals D.C.’s Rent Control Winners and Losers

Haydar Kurban and the CHURP team are creating a comprehensive rent control database that will shape policy — and promises to create a better balance between housing affordability and landlord realities

An iStock image of quarters with houses being stacked is part by height

For years, cities have used rent control to address the persistent problem of housing instability among underserved populations, such as African Americans. 

In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic and the nation’s mounting housing affordability crisis, rent control has again become a lever that policymakers are looking to pull. Per United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) standards, 40% of renters nationwide are in the “cost burdened” category, meaning they spend more than 30% of their income on housing. Moreover, though rent has climbed 135% since 1999, incomes have only increased by 77%, according to research gathered by Howard’s Center of Excellence in Housing and Urban Research and Policy (CHURP). CHURP focuses on policy-oriented research that addresses and ensures the voices of underserved populations are represented in the housing research and public policy arena. 

But as Washington D.C.’s city council tries to balance housing affordability with landlord realities, it is hitting a simple yet major stumbling block: It doesn’t have enough data to make informed decisions. 

“This is a big problem, and there just aren’t enough data sets out there,” says Haydar Kurban, economics professor and the director at Howard University’s Center on Race and Wealth (CRW) as well as CHURP. “But rent control is no different than any other economic policy. There are winners and losers.” 

Kurban’s research team is revealing those winners and losers with their comprehensive D.C. rent control database that promises better data-driven policies for the nation’s capitol and beyond. The project is funded with a $111,000 grant from D.C. Association of Realtors (DCAR).  

Kurban explained that rent control in D.C. only applies to rentals built before 1976. Buildings built after 1976, especially many of the larger modern rental complexes, are not subject to rent control and are largely owned by large conglomerates or wealthy developers. That stipulation is important, he said, because older housing stock is largely owned by the Black community, which means rent control may be hobbling its wealth generation.  

In fact, CHURP’s research shows that the median rent for all rent-controlled buildings is $1,442 per month — 60% of the $2,554 monthly rent charged for median units in uncontrolled properties. Plus, as D.C. gentrifies, many of its traditionally Black neighborhoods now house the affluent who may be benefitting from rent control, which typically has lax income verification.  

“While we’re all for rent control, we never really thought about this other side of the equation,” Kurban says. “To what extent are those types of people benefiting? As the population changes due to gentrification, our usual assumptions no longer apply.”  

Kurban says his database can be linked with administrative and tax data to understand the socioeconomic characteristics of rent-controlled tenants along with their landlords. It can also show the effects the 2007 inclusionary zoning law had on the District’s rent-controlled housing stock and the property values of surrounding owner-occupied homes. Finally, it will uncover the “shadow” rental market — properties that are designed to be owner-occupied, such as single-family homes or condominiums, that have been converted to rental units. 

“Everyone wants to protect their turf, and that’s why this data is so important — so policy can be data driven,” Kurban says. “Our center is uniquely equipped to drill down into the data and produce a database that gives us a complete picture.”