District of Columbia officials said yesterday they were relieved that a House committee Tuesday rejected a measure that could force the city either to lift rent controls on a substantial number of apartments or lose federal rent subsidies for about 1,300 units.
"I am confident that having beaten back the challenge at the committee level, it will not have much prospect in the [full] House," said District Del. Walter E. Fauntroy, a committee member who strongly opposed the legislation.
D.C. Mayor Marion Barry said through a spokesman that he was confident the bill would not become law following a rejection on a voice vote by the House Banking Committee. The measure, in the form of an amendment to the bill authorizing funding for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and other federal agencies, now goes to the full House.
The Senate passed corresponding legislation last week. Differences between the two versions must be resolved by a conference committee.
Barry spokesman Alan F. Grip said he believed that a majority in Congress would see the unfairness of "holding hostage cities with rent control."
Under the Senate version of the legislation, any city that imposes rent controls on newly constructed apartments or vacant rental housing would be denied money for subsidized housing. (Families receiving subsidies woud continue to get them, however.)
Under the city's rent control law, rents on new apartments are exempt from control, but there is a 10 percent ceiling on increases allowed when a unit becomes vacant -- a limited form of "vacancy decontrol."
Vacancy decontrol was one of the most controversial issues last year when the D.C. City Council passed its newest rent control law. Tenant groups fought for a lower increase, while landlords battled for total vacancy decontrol. Under the previous rent control law, such increases had been limited to 3 percent.
Charlene Drew Jarvis (D-Ward 4), chairwoman of the City Council's Housing and Economic Development Committee, said if the proposed congressional legislation becomes law, the council "will have to take a hard look" at revising vacancy decontrol "because we absolutely need subsidized housing to help people who are in the city remain in the city."
The city's Rental Accommodations Office, which administers the rent control law, is examining the impact of decontrol and looking at alternatives in case the measure passes. "We're just trying to think ahead in case this should come," explained rent administrator Dorothy Kennison.
The office is determining how many apartments become vacant each year. The turnover rate was 21 percent according to 1977 figures, the latest available. "If people are not moving, vacancy decontrol may not have that much effect," Jarvis said. More than 160,000 rental apartments and houses exist in the city.
Jarvis said the city could enact legislation allowing tenants to sublet apartments under certain circumstances to reduce the impact of decontrol. Under such a law, the rent would still be controlled, because technically the apartment would not become vacant. Currently, tenants must receive permission from landlords to sublease.
Representatives of the National League of Cities and tenant groups throughout the country opposed the rent control provision attached to the federal housing-appropriations bill, principally because they feel local governments should be able to decide what forms of rent control -- if any -- they want.