There is currently a widely-spread opinion that rents in San Francisco, New York and Seattle are rising too fast. I don't think Chicago (among others) is sharing in this trend. It has a similar political orientation, so it can't be dismissed as simply due to politics.

San Francisco is known for its NIMBY attitudes to new construction. So it's easy to dismiss it as an outlier. New York has effectively enacted NIMBY through its voluminous building code. Although there no direct culture of NIMBYism there. Seattle, however, doesn't really have either of those problems. And yet its rents have risen as the number of legal migrant workers has increased due to the influx of IT workers on work visas.

Since legal immigrants can't vote and legal migrant workers can't vote for even longer periods of time, it seems reasonable to assume that the local political processes would be geared towards benefiting long-time residents by enabling their rent-seeking behavior towards those who are not able to participate in the political process.

But that's just a conjecture. There is always a lot of variables at play. So I'd like to know if there are any known studies which show the correlation between lengths of time that newly-arriving legal immigrants cannot participate in the political process and the rates of rent increases disproportionate to the rents in other regions.

I want to know about legal and only legal immigrants(and migrants) because adding "illegality" of residency throws another power imbalance into the mix and introduces more variables to account for.

If you think that this is better suited for economics.SE, please, let me know. I am not quite sure if that's the case because it seems like experts on politics would be more aware of immigration-related issues.


1 Answer 1


There is such a correlation, but the line of causation that is suggested in the question has not been established and is unlikely.

High rents are a good indicator of high average per capita income and high economic productivity.

Immigration is heavily influenced by economic opportunity, and from the perspective of someone in another country, high average per capita income and high economic productivity are good indicia that are available to them of where in the country that they are considering moving to, economic opportunity is greatest.

In particular, businesses that seek to sponsor employment based immigration tend to be high productivity businesses that overwhelmingly disproportionately choose to locate in these cities. Economic growth in the U.S. in stunningly concentrated in a couple of dozen metropolitan areas and those metropolitan areas predominantly have high rents.

Further, since previous immigrants also used the same means to decide where in the country they would choose to settle, these cities tend to have pre-existing immigrant communities that can provide mutual support to them upon their arrival that is not available in places where there are no fellow expatriates.

So, while there is a correlation, the causes are probably far more driven by economics than politics.

NIMBY aspects of how the American political reality that land used decisions are made by local governments which are in turn driven by the interests of voters in those local government jurisdictions who are predominantly residential property owners, have been established in academic studies. But it is also well established that this is an area in which the "median voter theorem" applies. The interests of residential property owners in these areas on NIMBY land use issues are closely aligned, and so the interests of the median voter, the 40th percentile voter and the 60th percentile voter, for example, in a typical local government election, are all aligned to an extent that the interests of a median voter with and without an exclusion of non-citizens from the political process would be basically the same. There are no high rent urban areas in the U.S. where there are enough non-citizens to tip the interests of the median voter one way or the other from the status quo on NIMBY land use issues.

  • You are not actually addressing the question asked. The question was "are there known studies?" The studies which I asked about would investigate how the lengths of arrival-to-citizenship periods (call it the variable) of local immigrants would effect rents (call it the outcome). Native-born residents are not even a matter of consideration here, nor are the immigrants who do not have the ability to gain voting rights.
    – grovkin
    Jan 16, 2021 at 11:40
  • And, as a btw, I don't think talking about the median value of arrival-to-citizenship period would be meaningful because these periods have either a bi-modal or a tri-modal distribution.
    – grovkin
    Jan 16, 2021 at 11:49

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