With some of its members pounding their desks and others shouting the chairman down, the D. C. City Council refused yesterday to consider a bill that would have imposed an immediate moratorium on the conversion of apartments to condominiums and cooperatives.
Yesterday's session, a stormy debate of name-calling on the dais and hissing from housing activists in the audience, marked the second successive time that the council refused to vote on a proposal sponsored by Council members Hilda Mason (Statehood-at large) and Wilhelmina J. Rolark (D-ward 8).
Condominium conversions have become an increasingly serious problem in the District as landlords, claiming their profit margins are being squeezed by the city's rent control law, have turned more and more to condominiums.
Last year, the city issued permits for the conversion of 10,481 rental units-15 times more units than had been approved in 1977. Supporters of the moratorium contend that with each conversion, a poor family unable to afford to purchase the unit loses a home.
The Mason-Rolark measure would have immediately prohibited the conversion of most apartments-including the 10,481 units for which permits have already been issued and another 6,830 units whose owners have applied for conversion certificates this year. A landlord would be able to convert a building only if a majority of those persons living in the units consented.
Council members opposing the bill argued that the imposition of an immediate moratorium would be illegal and would certainly be unfair.
"Can we do something that legally changes what has already been done," asked Council member Willie J. Hardy (D-ward 7).
Some council members and Mayor Marion Barry had been hopeful that yesterday's impasse could have been avoided. On Monday, Barry met with representatives of the Emergency Committee to save Rental Housing, a collection of housing activists and tenant groups supporting the moratorium, to forge a compromise.
Several council members and Ivanhoe Donaldson, the mayor's general assistant, said that the group had agreed to a plan that would have stopped the issuance of more conversion permits but allowed those already authorized to go ahead.
After a meeting with Mason, however, the group then backed out of the agreement, the critics said.
"They were being more ideological than they were having a concern for poor people and black people in the city," said Donaldson. "The question is whether you want to do something about the problem or put forth public rhetoric.
"They just want to stay back and keep their hands clean. But their hands aren't clean on this one. Something could have been done about the problem today," Donaldson said.
Council member David A. Clarke (D-ward 1) said the committee had been "so damned concerned that we have a radical-liberal Council . . . that they have not done the work to save the units."
Mark Looney, coordinator for the emergency committee, denied that an agreement had been reached with the mayor's office and said that the group had not insisted upon a vote on an ideologically pure bill, even if the measure was doomed to failure.
"We wanted to push today for the strongest possible measure," Looney said.
Committee chairman Kathryn Eager, almost in tears, said she was not a radical-liberal as Clarke maintained. "I'm a conservative Democrat," she said.
Mason, countering criticism that she should have proposed a more moderate measure that would have a better chance for passage, said, "I think we have a right to file what we think is in the interest of the people of this city."
Joining Rolark and Mason in voting for consideration of the bill were those council members from areas most affected by conversions. They were Clarke, who represents Adams-Morgan and Mount Pleasant; John A. Wilson (D-ward 2), who represents downtown and Dupont Circle, and Polly Shackleton (D-ward 3), who represents Georgetown, Cleveland Park and upper Connecticut Ave.
Voting against consideration were Hardy, Chairman Arrington Dixon, John Ray (D-at large), Jerry A. Moore Jr. (R-at large), William R. Spaulding (D-ward 5) and Nadine P. Winter (D-ward 6). Betty Ann Kane (D-at large) was out of town. Charlene D. Jarvis (D-ward 4) has not yet been sworn in.
The council approved related emergency legislation to prevent rent increases approved by the city's Rental Accomodations Commission from allowing 9,000 more units to become available for conversion to condominiums.
City law permits conversions in "high rent" units-units where rents exceed, for example, $221 a month for an efficiency apartment or $408 a month for a unit of three bedrooms or more.
The commission approved increases of up to 9.4 percent effective June 1. The legislation passed yesterday raised the floor for conversion eligibility to exceed the amount authorized by the increases. CAPTION: Picture 1, WILHELMINA ROLARK . . . co-sponsored condo conversion bill; Picture 2, HILDA MASON . . . criticized, she stood by her measure.