Some weeks ago, I sat through many hours of a three-day public hearing on rent control, held by the D.C. Council's Committee on Consumer and Regulatory Affairs. An extraordinary effort had been exerted to educate the residents concerning the pending legislation, through public forums, radio, television and local news publications. Anybody wishing to comment had been urged to review the legislation before the hearing, to submit written statements and to testify. More than 170 witnesses did just that.
As a private citizen unaccustomed to sitting in one place for any length of time, I nevertheless listened intently to expert witnesses, landlords, political party associations, tenants, unions, more landlords, investors, more tenants, charitable organizations, still more landlords and tenants, developers and special-interest groups. The witnesses obviously believed passionately in whatever positions they were espousing. But I became increasingly uneasy as the hearing progressed. Where were the District homeowners represented -- as a whole, as a group making up approximately 35 percent of our housing market?
Inspired by this intellectually stimulating, emotionally charged atmosphere -- the rallying tenant groups and despairing landlords -- I had an idea: organize a non-profit, city-wide District of Columbia Homeowners Association. The association's immediate purpose would be to represent specifically the interests of the many homeowners, including condominium owners, throughout the city.
As a District resident, I realize that we have active civic associations, advisory neighborhood commissions, block clubs, ward political organizations and innumerable elected officials. But all of these, by their very natures, necessarily must represent many different interests. None of these organizations, to my knowledge, is unequivocably responsible to the homeowner.
My vision is of an association whose diverse grass-roots membership would span all eight wards, thereby crossing traditionally polarizing distinctions. After all, despite the varied market values of our homes, the various political parties we may belong to, our educational degrees or lack thereof, our color, our differing incomes and occupations, our ethnic origins or our length of residency, we, as homeowners, share many common interests.
These include property assessments and taxes, water and sewer rates, utility rates and the controversial issue of rent control itself. Common sense dictates that rent control, for example, affects the District homeowner because our city requires a certain amount of revenue with which to operate. Hypothetically, landlords under rent control have lower incomes from their properties than they would without rent control and accordingly pay less in taxes. And landlords of rent- controlled buildings are less able and less likely to improve their properties; the result of this is lower assessments and therefore lower real estate taxes on these properties.
This means homeowners are among those who must make up any deficit -- usually by paying increased property taxes. Homeowners are not insensitive to the needs of either landlords or tenants; we recognize that there are people who require some types of assistance. But our concern for others need not be negated by our minimal desire to be represented as a homeowners association at hearings before the D.C. Council or the Public Service Commission.
Were the District's homeowners well organized -- and our membership large enough -- a non-profit, city-wide District of Columbia Homeowners Association could participate in still other areas. Representation alone, of course, necessitates the voluntary or paid participation of people to follow pending legislation of interest. A regularly published association newsletter would be appropriate too. And I assume that nominal yearly dues for homeowner-members would have to be charged.
A strong and active association also could provide such services as a homeowners' emergency hot-line and discounts on emergency repairs. It might even offer its members homeowners insurance policies at group discounts.
The city's landlords, tenants, Realtors and many others have had long- established associations. The more I think about it, the more convinced I become of the advantages of joining to promote and protect our common interest: our homes.
We have chosen to live in the District, one of the most expensive housing markets in the country; for most of us, our homes represent our most valuable financial asset. A homeowners association need not represent exclusivity or an infringement on the responsibility of other organizations. On the contrary, it could complement many other activities as well as act as a catalyst for the particular interests of all homeowners.