- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The D.C. Council is considering a measure to revamp the District’s 20-year-old rent control law.

The bill would limit rent increases to once per year and place new caps on how much rent can be raised in rent-controlled buildings.

The Committee of the Whole, which includes all D.C. Council members, is scheduled to meet April 4, when they might decide whether to submit the bill for a final vote.

“There are thousands of units across the District that are unaffordable but still under rent control,” said D.C. Council member Jim Graham, Ward One Democrat, who proposed an earlier version of a rent-control bill. “We’re proposing to tighten up a system that in many cases hasn’t controlled anything at all.”

About 100,000 apartments fall under the District’s guidelines for rent control to protect low income families, elderly and disabled persons from high rents.

The D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, a nonprofit organization, says that between 2003 and 2004, Washington lost 2,400 apartments that rent for less than $500 per month. In the same period, apartments renting for more than $1,000 per month increased by 4,600.

Under current law, landlords can raise the rent on vacant units to match the highest comparable unit in the building.

The pending rent-control bill, B16-457, would cap any rent increases on the vacant units at 50 percent in most cases.

However, it also makes concessions to landlords.

It eliminates many of the administrative filing requirements of landlords and reduces the time limit for tenants to challenge rent increases from three years to one year.

The D.C. Small Apartment Owners Association says increased energy costs and higher real estate taxes are reducing their profits, leaving them little choice but to raise rents.

Mr. Graham said 30 percent of renters in the District pay more than 39 percent of their household income on rent. Another 18 percent to 20 percent pay half their household income on rent, he said.

“We can’t stay like this because the owners will continue to raise rents,” said Lucille Coutard, president of the 1611 Park Road Tenants Association, a group of tenants in a rent-controlled building. “If this doesn’t go through, a lot of us will move out. They are moving out now but it will get worse and worse.”

In other news …

• Mayor Anthony A. Williams yesterday said the District would give 25 acres at the McMillan Sand Filtration Site on North Capitol Street near Washington Hospital Center to the National Capital Revitalization Corp.

“McMillan offers tremendous opportunity,” said Sharon Gang, the mayor’s spokeswoman. “It’s obviously an ideal location for housing. It also provides opportunity for commercial or retail development.” Possible other uses include a park or pedestrian trail.

The National Capital Revitalization Corp. is the District’s economic development corporation that seeks to revitalize underserved neighborhoods through real estate projects and attracting new businesses. The organization is juggling several options for what to do with the McMillan site. It plans to work out a more definite proposal after consulting with neighborhood groups and the D.C. Council.

The site was previously used as a water filtration plant until the District acquired it from the federal government for $9.3 million in 1987.

Property Lines runs on Thursdays. Call Tom Ramstack at 202/636-3180 or e-mail [email protected]

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