Wheaton resident Maryury Avila, an immigrant from Honduras, was evicted from her home with her young daughter earlier this year. Now Avila is speaking out, and she wants county government officials to do something for people like her facing housing insecurity.
“A few months ago, I was evicted from my home as my 5-year-old girl played innocently in the yard, not knowing what was happening. No words can describe the feeling other than that I had little value as a human being for the first time. I fell behind on rent after an increase of only 6%,” Avila told the Montgomery County Council Tuesday during a public hearing on a rent stabilization bill she supports called the HOME Act.
Silver Spring resident Bessem Ndip said she is worried she is going to be homeless because her rent is increasing next month and she can’t afford the new rate.
“I am feeling very hopeless and angry, as finding a new affordable home in Montgomery County is proving to be extremely difficult,” Ndip said, voicing her support for the same bill. “Being alone in this country is already difficult, but facing the possibility of homelessness is adding a great deal of stress to my life.”
Dozens of county residents packed County Council chambers in Rockville Tuesday afternoon to voice their opinions on two county rent-stabilization bills. Residents again packed chambers that evening for a second public hearing, holding signs in support of anti-rent gouging measures. Between the two meetings, more than 100 constituents provided testimony while more than 200 constituents submitted written testimony to the council.
Councilmembers have put two competing rent stabilization bills forward.
Councilmembers Will Jawando (D-At-large) and Kristin Mink (D-Dist. 5) are sponsoring the HOME Act, which would cap rent increases at 3% or the regional’s consumer price index (CPI), whichever is lower, and with certain exemptions. This includes rental units that have been available for 10 years or less. The current CPI is 4.4%.
Jawando and Mink have the backing of County Executive Marc Elrich, who has vocally supported the bill. However, they do not have the votes of their fellow council members.
Councilmembers Natali Fani-González (D-Dist. 6), Andrew Friedson (D-Dist. 1), Gabe Albornoz (D-At-large), Marilyn Balcombe (D-Dist. 2) and Sidney Katz (D-Dist. 3), and Dawn Luedtke (D-Dist. 7) are co-sponsoring a competing bill—which, according to the annual allowable rental increase, is less aggressive at helping tenants than Jawando and Mink’s proposal.
The six-member led proposal, Bill 15-23, would cap annual increases at the CPI plus 8%, with certain exemptions (one is for rental units offered for less than 15 years). Given that the current CPI is 4.4%, that would currently make the cap 12.4%.
Council President Evan Glass (D-At-large) and Councilmembers Laurie-Anne Sayles (D-At-large) and Kate Stewart (D-Dist. 4) are not co-sponsoring either bill. Sayles has said she opposes double-digit percent annual rent increases for tenants, which indicates she opposes the six-member led proposal. However, she has not expressed support for either bill, and Glass and Stewart have not revealed whether they support either.
Elrich has said he would veto the six-member sponsored bill if it remains unchanged. A veto override requires seven votes, which means the decision of the three undecided council members is key.
The majority of speakers at Tuesday afternoon’s public hearing supported the HOME Act.
Del. Gabriel Acevero (D-Dist. 39) represents parts of Gaithersburg, Germantown, Montgomery Village and other parts of the county in the Maryland General Assembly. He spoke in support of the HOME Act.
“It’s been really disheartening to be able to tell not only constituents that I represent, but my neighbors, that what landlords are doing is certainly well within the law,” Acevero said. “A lot of my constituents aren’t making enough in order to live in our very expensive county.”
Matt Losak, executive director of the Montgomery County Renters Alliance, said he and the alliance support the HOME Act. He argued the other bill has too high of a cap on rent increases.
“We understand and support our landlords’ right to maintain a profit margin and keep up with legitimate expenses. But there is no justification for the kinds of rent increases we’re seeing around the county,” Losak said. “It would be simply unconscionable for the council to support rent increases of 8% [plus] CPI. [A] majority of renters are seniors, work and low-income families and individuals, and people of color. It is doubtful the council can square its support for racial equity with the devastating impact excessive rent increases will have on the racial divide.”
A few speakers supported the six-member sponsored bill.
“Proponents of [the bills] point to a handful of examples of bad actors in the property management space – many of which take place in municipalities that would still be exempt from such action. Let us be clear: there are property owners that rent gouge, far and few in between, which is both bad for business, bad for the industry and bad for the community. But overregulation based on anecdotal evidence is simply bad governance,” said Villy Iranpur, representing the Greater Capital Area Association of Realtors. “Of the two pieces of legislation before us today, Bill 15-23 will weed out bad actors in the industry and maintain Montgomery County as a place for long-term property management investments.”
Yvonne Baker, vice president of asset management for local real estate firm the Donohoe, voiced concern that the HOME Act would be detrimental for managing residential properties. She did not voice support for the other bill either, but asked the council to “work toward an equitable approach for all involved.”
“The passage of [the HOME Act] will make it extremely difficult for owners to operate residential properties efficiently and safely across accounting, as well as to surge further investment and deployment of capital in the area of stabilization. Measures at any level will severely limit the willingness of investors on both the equity and debt sides to commit capital to our projects,” Baker said.
The bills will be discussed by the county’s Planning, Housing and Parks Committee in a work session in June. Council members Fani-Gonzalez, Friedson and Jawando serve on the committee.