- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 26, 2005

D.C. Council members are seeking to strengthen rent-control regulations for the first time in 20 years.

Some of the lawmakers want to limit rent-control benefits to permanent residents and those with limited income.

“We want developers to make money, but they shouldn’t be greedy,” council member Marion Barry, Ward 8 Democrat, said at a hearing yesterday.

The District’s regulations are based on laws enacted in 1985, which have been reaffirmed, virtually unchanged, every five years. Members are expected to consider five new proposals before the end of the year.

The measures would cap rent increases, under most circumstances, at 10 percent annually and eliminate the optional bi-annual rent increases available to operators.

Tenants would be guaranteed the rights to organize and challenge rent increases in regulatory hearings.

The proposed changes have been prompted in part by a hot real-estate market that has escalated rents on vacant units and spurred conversions of apartments into luxury condominiums.

“Rent control, in my opinion, is a key element in keeping more affordable rentals from disappearing,” said council member Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat. He cited the example of one-bedroom apartments in neighborhoods south of the White House that now rent for as much as $4,000 per month.

The D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, an independent nonprofit, reported that the city lost 2,400 apartments that rented for less than $500 from 2003 to 2004. During that period, there was an increase of 4,600 units renting at rates of more than $1,000 per month.

“How are poor families surviving these rapidly escalating housing costs?” asked Angie Rodgers, an analyst for the group. Rents in suburbs in Maryland and Northern Virginia are generally higher, she said.

Some property managers said increased energy costs and higher real-estate taxes have eroded their profit margins, particularly at smaller properties.

“The operating costs are going above 50 percent,” said Michael T. Sims of the D.C. Small Apartment Owners Association. Mr. Sims said preparing a vacant apartment for rental can cost more than $2,000, making cost recovery a lengthy process.

Council member David A. Catania, at-large independent, has called for income requirements to ensure that the rent-control program benefits the needy. He also wants a residency requirement that excludes students and others who live in the city part time and do not pay local income taxes.

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