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Rent Control Reform Takes Center Stage at DC Housing Committee Hearing

by Nena Perry-Brown

The DC Council Committee on Housing and Neighborhood Revitalization held a nearly nine-hour hearing on Thursday that covered five pieces of legislation related to rent control in the city. However, testimony at the hearing was less about the bills and more about the need for broader rent control reform.

One of the bills would substantively change how rent control works by requiring landlords to qualify tenants based on income. The Rent Stabilization Affordability Qualification Amendment Act of 2019 would mandate that prospective tenants of rent-controlled units earn (gross income) no more than five times the rent on a monthly basis.

Testimony was divided in two camps: tenants who think means-testing would be divisive and burdensome, and landlords and other advocates in the real estate industry who think means-testing would ensure rent control contributes to the city's affordable housing stock. 

Polly Donaldson, director of the Department of Housing and Community Development, and Johanna Shreve, the city's Chief Tenant Advocate, noted that the bill would be difficult to implement and enforce based on the additional workload to tenants and landlords.

"I think that individuals who are low income spend an inordinate amount of time having to provide paperwork," Director Shreve explained. "I don't think that we want to turn rent control housing, which is meant for the working poor too, into a situation where they cannot go and apply for an apartment and find a decent and safe place to live because they have to go through a series of calculative regimes to validate that they are in need of that housing."

Many on the tenant side pointed out that there is not a pervasive problem of wealthy tenants taking advantage of rent-controlled units in the city, making the means-testing bill unnecessary. Yesim Taylor, director of the DC Policy Center, noted that the bill as written would actually make it easier for wealthy tenants and harder for less-wealthy households to occupy rent-controlled units, using the example of a two-bedroom rent-controlled unit renting for $1,500 a month.

"Under this legislation, a single person household that makes $90,000, that is 102% of median area income, will be eligible to rent this unit," Taylor said. "A household with four people that makes $91,000, that's 72% of area median income, so far lower, will not."

The lack of control for housing size in the bill was also noted by Randi Marshall, vice president of government affairs for the Apartment and Office Building Association (AOBA), an organization that represents landlords and supports means-testing. "AOBA supports the concept of targeting rent-controlled housing to tenants but the proposed criterion is problematic because it does not consider the household size against the household income."

Director Shreve also reiterated throughout her testimony that the city is in need of an omnibus rent control bill, a step tenant advocates have been pushing for since a 10-year rent control extension was floated last fall.

Councilmembers Trayon White and Brianne Nadeau co-introduced a bill this summer that would accomplish many of the tenant advocates' goals. The Rent Stabilization Program Reform and Expansion Amendment Act would, among other things, add limits to rent increases and subject multifamily buildings with at least four units to rent control 15 years after stabilization. Rent control currently only covers buildings constructed before 1976.

Committee Chair Anita Bonds mentioned during her introductory statement for the hearing that a public hearing for the aforementioned omnibus bill is tentatively scheduled for November.

Image courtesy of Rawpixel Ltd.

See other articles related to: rent control dc, rent control, dc council

This article originally published at https://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/marathon-dc-housing-committee-hearing-turns-into-rent-control-reform-hearin/17333

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