For tenants at a small apartment couples on P. Street SE. in Anacostia, the District of Columbia's controversial rent control system has brought a stunning message - their rents are to rise by almost 57 per cent.
Mrs. Robert McCollough, a widow who lives in one of the nearly kept brick buildings, had paid $100.75 each month for her one bedroom apartment during 1976. Last January in the first of two steep increases her monthly rent was missed to [WORD ILLEGIBLE] . Next month it will become $157,50. Her new rent will exceed shortly her monthly $154 Social Security checks, her principal income.
"When I pay my rent, it ain't much left over." McCollough remarked as she said in her doorway one day last month. Her only other income is a monthly check from the Veterans Administration currently $79. "The Lord will work out something for me. Otherwise I'll move," she said.
The only's three-year-old rent control system has resulted in a crazy-quilt pattern of wipely varying tent increases. For some low income tenants, such as McCollough rents have increased dramatically. At the opposit end of the city's income spectrum. Some affluent households have heel sheltered from major rent increases, even though the tenants could afford to pay higher rents.
The much-debated rent control law has given tenants a new weapon for fighting attempts by landlords to raise rents. Some critics of the city's rent control system argue, nevertheless, that this tool is used more often by upper-income renters than by low-income families whom the law was chiefly intended to protect.
For over-rall statistics are available to indicate the extent to which rents have risen or been held down under the city's rent control program. Most real estate specialists, tenant advocates, researchers and government officials belive that, on the whole, rents are somewhat lower than they would have been without rent control. Some of these observers note, howere, that the system has worked relatively indiscriminately, sometimes benefiting the wealthy while occasionally failing to protect the poor.
The D.C. City Council passed legislation last week to extend rent control for three more years and the measure went to Mayor Walter E. Washington for his signature or veto.
The proposal extention appears unlikely to bring about any dramatic changes in the way rent increases are authorized. In one new step, a program would be established to help subsidize the rents of low-income, elderly and disable tenants. Yet it is unclear whether this plan would have more than relatively minor impact. The Council has not yet set aside funds to finance the cubsidy program.
Rents paid by McCollough and other tenants at the three-story, brick complex at 1815-31 P St. SE are increasing by 56.7 per cent as a result of a ruling by the D.C. Rental Accomodations Office, which administers the rent control program. Although the households of tenants in the complex's 55 apartments are of modest means some of the tenants appear prepared to pay the higher rents.
Lena S. Brown, whose monthly rent will rise from $102,75 last year to $161 Jan. 1, said during a conversation in her second-floor apartment that she and her husband are resigned to paying more rent, although they will be unable to save as much money as they hoped. She is employed as a homemaker; her husband works as a cook. "I love the apartment," she added. "We don't like to (pay more rent), but we don't want to move."
Owners and managers of the apartment complex view the increased rents from another perspective. The complex, which surrounds a grassy courtyard, is owned by the Steuart investment Co., a huge enterprise that also owns petroleum, transporation and insurance businesses and many other real estate holdings.
In its petition for authorization to raise its rents, the company indicated that it was losing money on the apartment complex. After protracted proceedings, the Rental Accomodations Office granted the steep rent increase to allow the company an 8 per cent return on its property - the amount considered reasonable under the city's rent control law.
Guy Steuart II, the company's vice president, said in a telephone interview that the rents had been "excessively low" and had denied the company a reasonable return on its investment. he atgue that the rent increase appeared more dramatic when expressed as a percentage rather than in dollars, and he noted that the impact of the rent increases had been softened because they are being put into effect in two steps, last January and next.
Steuart also said that, while he felt sorry for any tenants who could not afford higher rents, he believe it would be unfair to raise rents only for some of the tenants.
While tenant advocates frequently strss instances in which rents have increased sharply, real estate groups often point to examples of the opposite - luxury apartments where, they assert, tenants are paying less than they can readily afford. They have termed these a form of government enforced "subsidy" for the affluent at the expense of the properties' owners.
The Van Ness Centre, near Connecticut Avenue and Van Ness Street NW, often is cited as one such example. It is a modern, high-rise complex with two swimming pools, a shopping mall and underground parking and its three mental buildings include 1,524 apartments.
R. Lide Glenn, vice president of the Pollinger Co., which manages the complex, said in an interview that the average household income for tenants in one of the three Van Ness Centre buildings was found to be more than $39,000 a year, according to a survey he conducted of rental application in 1975.
Glenn's survey, he added, showed that the building's tenants on the average spent only about 10 per cent of their income for rent - about half the average percentage for renters in the Washington area. This percentage, he said, probably has not changed much since then.
The rent control system, Glenn added, also has had the effect of creating a widening gap among rents paid for virtually identical apartments at the Van Ness complex - a desparity which, he said, the buildings' management can do little to alter, even though the discrepancies are regarded by some tenants as unfair.
In one section of the Van Ness complex, Glenn said, a one-bedroom apartment rents for $270 a month, while another, identical apartment is priced at $375. Elsewhere in the apartment complex, monthly rents for comparable two-bedroom apartments vary from $340 to $465. On another tier, similar three-bedroom apartments rent for $498 a month and for $602. Because of rent control, Glenn noted, the buildings' management normally is not permitted to narrow these rent disparties unless a lower-rent tenant moves out.
In essence, Glen's rent stastistics raise two parallel questions. First, should the owners of high-priced, luxury apartment buildings be required because of rent control to charge lower rents than their affluent tenants can afford to pay? Second, shoud some of these relatively high-income renters be given an additional break, merely because their rents became substantially frozen when rent control first went into effect?
In interviews, several tenants of the Van Ness Centre complex empressed varied views about these issues. "I feel that the landlords are entitled to more rent," said one woman, who asked not to be identified. "I don't think they should subsidize anybody." Another tenant disagreed, saying any further rent increase now would be "most unreasonable."
The upper-income Van Ness Centre and the lowr-rent complex on P Street SE represent two facets of a complex pattern in a city where more than 400,000 residents - more than half the population - live in rented apartments and homes in the District.
Although the extent to which rents on the whole have risen under the city's rent control wyatem is not altogether clear, it appears likely that rents paid by many tenants have increased at least by about 20 per cent since 1973.
When the city's rent control system began in 1974, landlords were allowed to raise rents by 12.3 per cent above what they had charged in 1973. Later, they were permitted to increase rents by another 5 per cent if rates of return on their buildings were inadequate. Many, perhaps most, property owners are believed to have put such additional increases into effect.
Then, as a result of a 1976 court ruling, landlords were permitted to pass on to tenants the increased utilities and other costs they had incurred in maintaining their buildings. While no survey apparently has been made of these increases, some officials believe that many landlords raised rents by another 4 or 5 per cent.
Finally, the rent control law has allowed landlords to seek authorization for additional increases by submitting what are known as hardship petitions, if they are losing money or failing to earn an adquate return on their buildings. A recent city government survey found that rent increases averaging 39 per cent had been authorized under the hardship system. Only a small proportion of the city's landlords seek such increases. A hardship petition led to the almost 57 per cent rent boost for the complex on P Street SE.
Whether rents would be substantially higher in the city if no rent control system had been in effect is moot. Many property owners and managers assert than their rents are far too low and that they esily could rent their apartments at higher prices because of a continuing shortage of rental housing. The City Council's newly approved rent control measure would permit rent control measure would permit rent increases next year varying, in most instances, from 2 to 10 per cent. Spokesmen for the city's real estate industry have termed these rent rises insufficient.
One reason why rent increase remain a contoversial issue in the city is that a substantial number of the city's renters already spend what is considered a disproportionately large part of their incomes for rent.