D.C. City Council member Polly Shackleton (D-three), who represents some of Northwest Washington's wealthiest neighborhoods, voted against the 2-to-10 per cent rent increases approved by the Council Tuesday.
Council member Willie J. Hardy (D-seven), whose Southeast Washington constituents are among the city's poorest residents, voted in favor of the Council's emergency legislation, which will affect almost all of the 500,000 District residents who live in rental homes or apartments.
Such seemingly topsy-turvy voting patterns are one measure of the confusion, concern, doubts and controversy the city's 3-year-old rent-control program has stirred in the 13-member Council, now facing a continuing crossfire from landlords' and tenants' groups.
With some Council members facing election contests next year, the rent-control battle cannot escape taking on political overtones. A majority of the District's voters are estimated to live in rental units. The real estate industry contributes significantly to political campaigns.
Amid the economic and political crosscurrents of the rent-control controversy, the Council voted by a 7-to-6 margin Tuesday to allow across-the-board increases in rents for most of the city's tenants. The rent rises probably would be put into effect in December and January.
Council Chairman Sterling Tucker and Councilman Marion Barry (D.-at large) - two possible candidates for mayor next year - both supported the rent raises. Mayer Walter E. Washington, who has not indicated whether he will seek re-election, has not announced whether he will sign, veto or allow the emergency measure to take effect without his signature.
One political effect of the legislation, if it goes into effect, will be to put more distance between the rent increases and next year's elections than otherwise seemed likely. The Council has previously taken action that might have postponed rent increases until next spring or, some way, even later.
Despite the seeming illogic of Tuesday's voting patterns, Shackleton, Hardy - and other Council members as well - voiced clear and seemingly logical reasons yesterday for their votes.
Though she represents a wealthy ward, Shackleton says he opposed the rent increases because of concern for moderate-income elderly residents as well as some of the younger constituents who cannot affort to pay more rent. "I don't think everybody in my ward - just because it's ward three - is necessarily rich," she said in an interview yesterday.
Though she represents a low-income ward, Hardy says she favored the rent rises because she fears that landlords may abandon their buildings or let them deteriorate if they do not collect sufficient rents to pay for rising utilities and other costs.
Such developments might cause hardship for some of her tenant constitutents, Hardy warned yesterday.
In addition, she noted, many of the tenants in her ward live in federally subsidized public housing. They will not have to pay the Council-approved rent increases because federally subsidized housing is exempt from the city's rent-control program.
In a further legislative twist, council member David A. Clarke (D-one), an opponent of the rent increases, asserted in an interview yesterday that the Council's emergency bill was improperly drafted and would have the opposite effect from what the Council's majority had intended.
In Clarke's view, because of technical flaws in the legislation, the bill would not permit any across-the-board rent increases. Instead, he said2, it might impose more severe limit on raises that are sometimes allowed under the present rent-control law. It was unclear yesterday whether the District's legal advisers would agree with Clarke's analysis.
Although the Council's vote Tuesday came as a surprise, it had been foreshadowed, in part, by some Council members' earlier complaints - including statements by Tucker and Barry, both of whom have sought to follow compromise strategies that would not appear overly offensive to landlords or to tenants.
Not only were the Council members faced with political and economic pressures as they voted Tuesday on the proposed rent increases, but they also had been alerted to possible court suits and congressional rebukes as well. Council members has been told that Congress might seek to block long-term rent controls if the Council's moves seemed economically unsound.