The Montgomery County Council recently participated in extensive racial equity training, as mandated by the county’s Racial Equity and Social Justice Act of 2019. On Tuesday, the council will have the opportunity to advance equity by passing permanent rent stabilization that will both balance the urgent needs of families who rent and provide common sense provisions for developers and landlords to continue building and maintaining rental properties.
Although a significant portion of renters of all races in Montgomery County are cost burdened, the Office of Legislative Oversight (OLO) reports that Black and Brown communities face acute housing instability. “In 2021, 63 percent of Latinx renters and 57 percent of Black renters were cost-burdened (expending 30 percent or more of income on rent), compared to 45 percent of White renters and 38 percent of Asian renters.”
Council members were guided by hundreds of community members’ testimonies and input to draft a rent stabilization bill that will protect tens of thousands of tenants. As of the June 26 Planning, Housing, and Parks Committee work session, the rent stabilization bill:
- Sets a rent stabilization rate of 3% + CPI with a max of 6%. This rate, although significantly higher than the 3% that renters and renter advocates asked for, will protect tenants from displacement when half of renters are cost-burdened in Montgomery County
- Includes all types of rental housing, which is critical since 25% of county renters live in single family homes and condos
- Establishes both fair return and capital improvement provisions that allow landlords to increase the rent above the cap when necessary to pay for upkeep and to ensure a reasonable return on their investment
- Exempts new construction for 15 years, which current research shows is an effective way to ensure rent regulation does not negatively impact new development.
This policy reflects lessons learned from the 180+ jurisdictions across the country that have passed rent stabilization, including Washington, D.C., and Prince George’s County. The Montgomery County Racial Equity (MORE) Network urges the council to pass the current version of the bill, with the following amendments:
- Add vacancy control, to disincentivize predatory landlords from evicting tenants in order to raise the rent higher than the cap, especially since Maryland does not have Just Cause Eviction legislation, despite years of trying to pass this necessary protection at the state level
- Regulate fees, to close loopholes that allow landlords to circumvent the rent cap by charging new and higher fees.
The council should reject all weakening amendments including a higher rent cap, unlimited rent banking, an exemption for new construction based on a calendar year, exclusion of small landlords and month to month leases, and any sunset provision.
OLO’s Racial Equity and Social Justice impact statement on rent stabilization states, “Local data suggests Black and Latinx tenants would disproportionately benefit from rent regulations. Further, there is strong evidence from research that rent regulations are effective in improving housing affordability and stability for BIPOC tenants.”
OLO’s Rent Regulation report notes, “Researchers have produced an extensive body of research that identifies many positive economic, health, educational, and social outcomes for people who experience housing stability.”
There are many examples of the County Council not taking the guidance of the OLO’s equity impact statements. It is not enough for the council to talk about our diverse population, the council must advance equity in concrete ways. The most rent burdened tenants, who are disproportionately Black and Brown, need the council to act now to pass permanent and robust rent stabilization.
The MORE Network was established in 2019, when over 50 individual community members and community organizations came together to organize and advocate for the successful passage of Bill 27-19, the Racial Equity and Social Justice Act. With the passage of the Act, the community organizers and organizations who advocated for the bill sought a network through which they could advocate to ensure that the county government is successfully and effectively implementing the bill’s requirements.
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