How Do We Stop the Rise of Outrageously Priced Condos?

You’d think it wouldn’t be controversial to suggest one solution to a housing shortage is more housing, but I bet I’ll get letters.

I read your column on those outrageously priced condos [Dr. Know, WW, Sept. 28]. How do we get this to stop? Also, how do we get Washington to put a cap on rent increases like Oregon’s? (Although I think even 10% per year is a lot!) —Linda H.

I assume the “this” you want to stop is skyrocketing housing prices in Portland. Here’s the thing: Greedy developers are bulldozing beautiful, historic homes in desirable neighborhoods to build ugly, high-priced apartment blocks for rich assholes. The problem is that they’re not doing it nearly fast enough.

Look, I love a 1920s Craftsman as much as the next guy; I’m not saying this because I’m bitter (although I am) that I can’t afford to live in one. But think about it: If some six-figure-earning tech bro can’t find a luxury building, he doesn’t just vanish in a puff of bitcoin. (If only!) He still needs a place to live, and now he’s going to go after the crummier, more busted places you and I used to be able to afford, driving up the price.

In a perfect world, we’d be building just as many cheap apartments for poor people as we do expensive apartments for rich people. But increasing the number of available units at any level (within reason) helps reduce price pressure across the board. So when you see one of those awful buildings going up, swallow hard and remember it’s for the best.*

As to your second question, I’ve got good news and bad news. The bad news is that Washington state law forbids rent control of any kind. There’s a push to change that (Seattle’s city council passed a resolution urging repeal in 2015), but don’t hold your breath. The good news in Oregon is that with inflation at 8%, the true cost of our 10% per year increase is more like 2%.

Psych! Just kidding—we didn’t pay much attention back when inflation had been steady at 2% to 3% forever, but our cap was actually written not as a flat 10%, but as the rate of inflation plus 7%. Thus, in 2023, landlords can jack up the rent a full 14.6%. Chalk up another win for The Man (assuming you have any chalk left).

*You’d think it wouldn’t be controversial to suggest one solution to a housing shortage is more housing, but I bet I’ll get letters.

Questions? Send them to dr.know@wweek.com.