The House of Representatives, in an amendment to the Housing and Community Development Act of 1980, has for the first time adopted language that would penalize local communities for enacting rent control.
"It's the first time Congress has ever spoken out on rent control," said Rep. Chalmers P. Wylie (R-Ohio), who introduced the amendment approved by a 239-to-162 vote on Aug. 21. Senate and House conferees will meet today to work out differences over the housing bill, including whether the amendment will be retained.
The amendment, to a portion of the bill that sets up a program to provide rental assistance to middle-income families, would deny funds under that program to any local jurisdiction that set up a new rent controls on newly build housing.
"This has been one of the great triumphs of the national real estate lobby and undoubtedly will let them believe they can control more legislative activity like this," said Rep. Peter A. Peyser (D-N.Y.), who opposed the amendment.
Walter E. Fauntroy (D-D.C.), who is among the House conferees on the bill, said he would work to have the amendment eliminated. "It's an unfair burden to impose on any local community," he said.
Opponents of the amendment, including the newly organized National Tenants Union, said they are optimistic that the anti-rent control language can be eliminated in conference. The amendment's supporters include the National Multihousing Council, a landlord group.
Although rent control, which has been adopted by more than 200 communities including Washington, D.C. and New York City, has produced much grumbling in Congress, the Wylie amendment is the first time either house of Congress has ever attempted to intervene in such local programs.
"In as much as we haven't yet said this is a problem that requires a national solution. I think that frankly -- when Congress thinks about it -- they're going to be reluctant tosay that," said Rep. Thomas L. Ashley (D-Ohio), chairman of the House subcommittee on housing and community development.
Ashley also said that if the Wylie amendment is insisted upon it would efectively nullify the program to which it is attached. That program would provide $61 million to communities where the rental housing supply has dried up to build rent subsidy housing available to familes who earn as much as 150 percent of median community income.
"The purpose of the section is to increase the nation's stock of rental housing," said Wylie. "Yet during the hearings it developed that rental housing production has declined in those cities which have rent control ordinances.