DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA voters are being asked today to vote "FOR" or "AGAINST" Referendum 001 on the city's rent control law. The language of the referendum is confusing. It is not, as some misleading posters suggest, a vote for or against rent control. Regardless of the outcome of the referendum, rent control in the District will continue for the next six years. It is a vote on four particular provisions in the rent control law that the city council passed last spring. If you want to eliminate those four provisions, vote "FOR" the referendum. If you want to leave the law as it is, vote "AGAINST."
The four provisions all involve removing certain apartments under certain conditions from rent control. Referendum supporters, urging a "FOR" vote, claim that the poor and the elderly are being forced into the streets under the current law. They suggest that the controls that expired last spring are better.
We believe they are wrong and that residents should vote "AGAINST" the referendum. A number of church leaders, the local chapters of the NAACP, Operation PUSH and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference agree that the law is best left alone.
Housing experts have testified that a healthy rental market thrives on turnover and that rent control stifles that movement by encouraging growing families or successful professionals, who would ordinarily move into bigger and better units, to stay in their rent-controlled apartments.
There are many protections in the current law. Vacated apartments can only be removed from rent control if the city's vacancy rate is 6 percent -- twice the current figure -- and only if a $15 million tenant rent subsidy plan has been funded. Any property owner seeking to remove nearly vacant buildings from rent control must find decent housing for his tenants and pay their moving costs. And the law provides incentives to renovate dilapidated apartments -- so often closed by landlords, with the tenants being displaced -- by waiving costs such as tax liens or water and sewer fees.
We favor a vote "AGAINST" the referendum.