The “Reclaim Rent Control” campaign’s proposals got a hearing this morning. Activists have called for a hearing on their plan to expand the rent-controlled housing stock for some time, with some even protesting outside the home of At-Large Councilmember Anita Bonds, who chairs the housing committee, sparking tension in the at-large race.     

The omnibus bill, titled the Rent Stabilization Program Reform and Expansion Amendment Act of 2020, does several things, including: 

  • Expanding rent control to include housing built before the last 15 years of when the bill is implemented, as opposed to 1976.
  • Applying rent control to landlords who own fewer than four units, as opposed to fewer than five.  
  • Capping annual rent increases at rate of inflation, instead of CPI plus 2 percent. 
  • Eliminating vacancy increases.  
  • Changing the formula for hardship petition. A landlord could seek a rent adjustment via a hardship petition should profits on the building’s operations not provide a 12 percent annual return on equity. Read City Paper’s coverage on the practical effects of these petitions, such as rent hikes.  
  • Scrapping voluntary agreements. This allows landlords to negotiate rent increases for building improvements. Read about the practical effects of these agreements from WAMU.     

The omnibus bill is backed by a number of groups including the DC Tenants Union, Empower DC, the Latino Economic Development Center, and Greater Greater Washington. The local housing organizers that formed the Reclaim Rent Control coalition, with support from union and leftist groups, got Ward 1 and Ward 8 Councilmembers Brianne Nadeau and Trayon White to introduce the bill in July. The bill’s vocal critics are landlords. This morning, the Apartment and Office Building Association of Metropolitan Washington, a trade group representing property managers, tweeted at councilmembers to vote against the bill.  

More than 160 individuals signed up to testify at the hearing. The public witnesses are a mix of landlords and tenants, and their supporters. Landlord associations warn that the bill would stifle the housing stock should it become law, while tenants and their supporters argue D.C. is unaffordable and comprehensive legislation to strengthen existing rent control laws is necessary. Landlords and their supporters are also against piecemeal proposals to reform rent control

The hearing was not without technical issues. Bonds’ staff says the committee faced technical difficulties with the Spanish interpreter at the start, so an organizer with the Latino Economic Development Center had to translate one tenant’s testimony. All of the Spanish-speaking tenants spoke in favor of rent control.    

The D.C. Policy Center, a business-backed think tank, released a lengthy report on the bill ahead of hearing that could spook some councilmembers. The report says the bill would cost D.C. $134 million over the next 11 years. “Lower rents = lower taxable assessments = lower taxes,” tweeted the report’s author. (It does not appear that the report incorporates possible savings.) 

The report also says exempting only properties built within the last 15 years from rent control would expand rent-controlled stock by 4,705 units, or roughly 6 percent. Ward 6 would see the largest increase. Wards 5, 7, and 8 would see the greatest impact from expanding rent control to landlords with four units.      

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

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