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D.C. could extend rent control through 2030

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New legislation would ensure the program doesn’t lapse at the end of next year

A brick apartment building with a fire escape and a chimney. Shutterstock

Original post, September 18:

Since 1985, the District has lost about 50,000 rent-controlled units, a decline of more than 38 percent from the 130,000 rent-controlled units it used to have. And if lawmakers do not act, the remaining 80,000 or so homes currently estimated to be under rent control would convert to market-rate rents after 2020, when the local law governing them is set to expire.

But a bill introduced unanimously by the D.C. Council Tuesday would extend the city’s rent control program by another decade, through 2030. At-Large Councilmember Anita Bonds, who chairs the Council’s housing committee, authored the legislation. In proposing it, she said “this is a supply-demand issue” and that rent control is the District’s most widely used affordable housing program. The Rental Housing Act of 1985 limits allowable rent increases in apartment buildings constructed prior to 1975 and guarantees landlords a 12 percent rate of return on their investments in rent-controlled properties, among a few other exemptions.

Rent control was implemented in D.C. during the 1970s “to address a severe shortage of affordable housing, specifically for low- and moderate-income renters,” said Bonds. Still, low-cost apartments have eroded from the city over the past several decades while median rents have increased, resulting in thousands of residents displaced by ballooning living costs.

Experts say continued population growth in the region without a commensurate boost in housing inventory would make the D.C. area even less affordable. As for rent control, many economists criticize such programs—despite a burgeoning national push for them—saying they tend to benefit existing tenants in the short term, but restrict housing in the long term.

As of 2019, the annual legal rent hike amount for most rent-controlled homes in the District is 4.3 percent, equivalent to a base 2 percent plus the consumer price index (a measure of inflation), which is now 2.3 percent. For senior and disabled tenants in rent-controlled units, the legal rent hike amount is just the consumer price index, 2.3 percent. Bonds’s office says her housing committee is scheduled to hold public hearings on October 2 and October 30.

Update, November 1:

The D.C. Council’s housing committee says in a notice that it will hold a hearing on the rent control bill November 13, beginning at 11 a.m. “In addition to testimony on the extension of rent stabilization, witnesses are invited to also testify on suggested improvements to the District’s rent stabilization program,” the notice says. The record is open until November 27. Some local activists are pushing not just to extend rent control laws but also to expand them.