The D.C. City Council agreed yesterday to suspend its rules in order to begin final debate on the controversial rent control bill on April 16, two weeks earlier than scheduled.
Tenant groups had feared that the first of two required votes on the bill would take place on April 30, the same day the current rent law expires, making it easier for rent control opponents to push through weakening amendments. If the council votes on the bill on April 16, the second and final vote would take place on April 30.
Meanwhile, tenant organizers announced that they were forming a political action committee to support council members considered friends of renters and to oppose their council opponents.
The political action committee would organize tenants in each of the city's eight wards.
"We can no longer come together as tenants just when rent control is about to expire," said Valerie Costelloe, one of the tenant organizers. "We must organize and stay organized politically to reward our friends and defeat our enemies."
The city has had rent control for 10 years in an effort to make decent and affordable housing available to all residents. The current law applies to about 120,000 of the city's 159,000 rental housing units and tenants argue that the city needs to continue controls to avoid tenant displacement.
Landlords, however, say that rent control has caused deterioration of the city's housing because they are unable to make the profits necessary to maintain buildings.
Last month, the council's Consumer and Regulatory Affairs Committee sent the full council a rent bill introduced by Council Chairman David A. Clarke. That bill, which does not change current law, was sponsored by five other council members. But Clarke is still looking for one more vote to give him the seven he needs for the bill's passage.
John Ray (D-At Large) asked the council yesterday to waive its rules to consider the Clarke bill on April 16. But Ray, who failed to get council support for his own controversial rent control bill, said after the meeting that he plans to continue to fight to gain council approval of some of his provisions.
Ray's bill would extend rent control for six years and lift controls on apartments as they become vacant. Ray, who was unable to gather enough votes to get his bill out of the five-member consumer committee, which he chairs, said that he fully expects the Clarke bill to be amended and that "everything is wide open."
Tenant groups and some council members have said that Ray's vacancy decontrol provision is dead, but Ray said he still plans to push for its passage.