The Metropolitan Washington Council, AFL-CIO, announced yesterday its opposition to a plan to lift rent controls on District apartments as they become vacant and promised to fight for a continuation of the city's rent-control law, which expires April 30.
Joslyn Williams, the council's president, said during a District Building press conference that he believes vacancy decontrol, which is contained in a rent control bill introduced by City Council member John Ray (D-At Large), would weaken the city's rent law and make it difficult for residents to find affordable housing. The current law limits landlords to a 10 percent rent increase on vacant units.
"We are opposed to total vacancy decontrol, which would allow landlords to raise rents to any limit once an apartment is vacated, allowing the number of rental units controlled to steadily decrease over time," Williams said.
He added that city workers, many of whom are members of unions that belong to the labor council, would be forced to pay exorbitant rents if the council passes the Ray bill.
Ray said that Williams and others are using "scare tactics" to fuel opposition to the rent control bill. Ray added that he would not be frightened by "a small group of organizers who are manipulating tenants" without having read his proposal.
The city's current rent control law has helped keep the rents for middle-class tenants artificially low while not helping the city's poor residents find safe and decent housing, Ray said. He has recommended substantial changes in the current law, including vacancy decontrol, which would allow unrestricted rent increases unless the new tenant is elderly. Ray's bill also proposes establishing a $15-million rent subsidy to help low-income and elderly residents.
But Williams said the city's housing problems were not caused by rent control and that the union "will not support legislation which throws tenants . . . into the jaws of landlords hungry for unreasonable profits."
Appearing with Williams were representatives from the Ward 1 Tenants Council, a coalition of tenant groups that has formed to lobby for strengthening the city's current law. The council maintains that Ray's bill would discourage landlords from renting to elderly residents because the owners could get higher rents by leasing to others. The council also argues that a $15 million subsidy would be inadequate for the number of tenants who would be faced with higher rents resulting from passage of Ray's bill.
Ray is conducting meetings in each of the city's eight wards to explain the provisions of his bill.