IN 1975, the City Council enacted its first rent-control law. It was a crowd-pleasing move; city officials, desperate to find an easy way to hold down sky-rocketing rents, simply imposed a citywide freeze on rent increases. And though they considered it a temporary measure, council members extended it year after year -- pressured by vocal constituent groups who saw rent control as a struggle of the "good guys" (tenants) against the "bad guys" (landlords).
Now, four years later, there is ample evidence that rent control is destroying the city's rental-housing market. For moe thing, there has been a dramatic decline in the amount of rental housing in town. No new rental units have been built since 1976 -- and none is currently planned. Realtors are bailing out of the rental business in growing numbers, converting their properties to cooperative or condominium apartments. So great is this transfer that the number of rental units converted in 1978 was triple that of 1977. Realtors say that the city's rent freeze forced them out of the business, that they could not keep up with rising costs of such things as utilities -- let alone make a profit. Those who remaind in the rental market are cutting back on securty, building maintenance and other services to [WORDS ILLEGIBLE]
This drop in me [WORDS ILLEGIBLE] dietably, hit tenants [WORDS ILLEGIBLE] the very people rent [WORDS ILLEGIBLE] Not only are those tenants [WORDS ILLEGIBLE] converted out from unde [WORDS ILLEGIBLE] cooperatives and condominums is so that few can afford to purchase one. The added pressure of inflation has prompted many tenants to take landlords to court in hope of staving off converstions; others are trying to find rental units elsewhere in town. And a considerable number of those tenants are simply moving out of the city.
What can be done? In fact, city officials have only three choices. They could abruptly abandon rent control -- an option that is as unlikely as it would be imprudent. Rents would doubtless soar while conversions increased, resulting in chaos throughout the housing market. Or, officials could simply continue the rent-control system pretty much as it is. No doubt that has appeal to some council membrs; they would be able to sidestep the city's housing problems while appearing responsive to their constituents. Such action -- or, more accurately, inaction -- would result in legislation created to avoid political controversy -- hardly the kind of law-making that the city needs.
The last choice -- and in our view, the bast one -- is for Mayor Marion Barry and council members to plan the careful phasing out of rent control. They should set a deadline by which the[Word Illegible] will be done -- in two years, let us say. During that time abandoned city-owned housing [WORDS ILLEGIBLE] housing codes could be enforced [WORDS ILLEGIBLE] could be repaired; realtors could [WORDS ILLEGIBLE] renovate privately owned aban [WORKS ILLEGIBLE] that, to sell them to the city [WORDS ILLEGIBLE] increase in the amount of housing, ren [WORDS ILLEGIBLE] all income groups could have a chanceto hve in this city. It is a powerful reason for getting rid of rent control.