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Nine hours. That’s how long Thursday’s hearing on D.C.’s 35-year-old rent control law lasted. A lot of public witnesses told the Council that the current law is not going to cut it—they said to strengthen it so more tenants are protected by rent control and to keep existing rent-controlled housing affordable. (There was a moment there when public testimony was going to end three hours earlier.)

The hearing was on a string of bills the housing chairwoman, At-Large Councilmember Anita Bonds, introduced. The bills appear to satisfy neither tenants nor housing providers. Her most extreme bill, supported by a Council majority, would set income eligibility standards for living in a rent-controlled building. Currently, there is no means test for this type of housing like there is for, say, public housing. 

“It is designed,” Bonds told me before the hearing, “to give people who really need assistance an opportunity to at least go to the top of the list for access to any units that become available.” Bonds also told me “the law as it is written does not displace anyone who is currently in a [rent-controlled] unit.”

The thinking among some, particularly housing providers, is that wealthier individuals are taking advantage of the city’s rent control stock. But there is no data to support that thinking, says the Office of the Tenant Advocate Director Johanna Shreve. She also added in her testimony that “the fact that there is no year recertification and no oversight under this bill encourages landlords to flout the law, rendering it meaningless.”

The Department of Housing and Community Development director also told the Council that the bill would be challenging to implement, but said it could be a “north star.”  

Groups representing local developers and property managers testified as expected. Randi Marshall, with the Apartment and Office Building Association of Metropolitan Washington, was against most of Bonds’ bills that reform rent control law in a piecemeal fashion. Marshall added that AOBA supports making rent-controlled buildings means tested, but is concerned about the application of the bill.   

Many who testified, some a part of the Reclaim Rent Control coalition, want the Council to reform rent control law comprehensively. “I think this moment … requires us not just to act but to act boldly,” said Markus Batchelor, Ward 8 resident and at-large candidate. There is a bill that would do that. It was introduced this year by Councilmembers Brianne Nadeau (Ward 1) and Trayon White (Ward 8) and gets a hearing Nov. 5. 

—Amanda Michelle Gomez (tips? agomez@washingtoncitypaper.com

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—Amanda Michelle Gomez (tips? agomez@washingtoncitypaper.com

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