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Susan Green

‘Control’ Head Devises Rent-Lifting Scheme!

Ease Landlord ‘Hardship’ by Boosting Rent

(3 February 1947)

From Labor Action, Vol. 11 No. 5, 3 February 1947, pp. 1 & 8.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Major General Philip Fleming, director of the Office of Temporary Controls, has issued an order for easing rent ceilings in cases of landlords who “suffer economic hardship.” At the same time, his own Office of Temporary Controls has completed a survey of landlord income for 1946 on a national scale, showing that the net take soared above 1945, to a record peak.

General Fleming is possibly haunted by the remark attributed to a philosopher of some note that “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” However, let us assume that he was not completely aware of the findings of his own office, and examine the “economic hardships” suffered by the real estate business:

In 1944 the now extinct OPA, investigating New York landlords, found that their net income had more than doubled since 1938 – just a little wartime bonus for graciously renting at murderous rates every hole and hovel that the housing shortage made so precious. A “sample group” of landlords whose net income in 1939 had totaled $900,000, reaped a $2,000,000 wartime harvest in 1944. The 1945 income topped that of 1944.

Now General Fleming’s own department gives the lie to his concern over the “economic hardships” of the landlords by revealing still mounting profits for 1946 throughout the nation. Though there is no philosophical consistency here, there is a definite class consistency. The more profits the capitalists pocket, the more they want, the greater their pressure on the government and the greater the willingness of capitalist politicians to play along.

“Reasonable Doubt”

General Fleming assured reporters that his ruling is meant to benefit “small property owners.” This is supposed to arouse the sympathy of the tenant whose wages in 1946 lost about 25 per cent of purchasing power, so he will take a rent squeeze of 15 or 20 per cent. And, offhand; we would take a bet that our definition of “small property owner” and his disagree.

Fleming also swears that his ruling does not break the line of rent control. At the same time reporters are told that any cases of “reasonable doubt” will be settled in favor of the landlords. Since there are about a dozen grounds on which landlords can apply for a rent boost, there is plenty of room for at least one “reasonable doubt.” Even before Major Fleming’s latest gratuity to the profit-mad realtors, 20,000 to 30,000 cases of rent boosts were already being allowed each month.

While the Democratic administration is taking an official stand in favor of rent controls but at the same time underhandedly breaking rent ceilings, the Republicans in Congress are for an open rent, boost of 15 or 20 per cent and for the end of all rent control by the end of 1947 or the first quarter of 1948. Republican Senators Hawkes (N.J.), Cain (Wash.), Malone (Nev.) and McCarthy (Wis.) are to introduce a bill to this effect any day now. Senator Taft (Ohio), chairman of the Republican Policy Committee, favors rent increases, and his influence is great.

Senator Malone – the cautious man – is not sure he wants his name attached to the bill he will help draw, but he’s sure he wants to set a date for ending rent control so that investors and real estate interests can be aided in their planning. Mr. Malone also thinks that by the end of the year rents will probably be “back on competitive controls.” Does Mr. Malone know the real extent of the housing crisis? The 1940 Housing Census reported almost seven million houses in need of major repairs; 4,300,000 without central heating or stoves; over 30,000,000 people living in houses below minimum standards of health, safety, decency or convenience. The war years deepened the crisis. The trickle of building since V-J Day will not restore “competitive controls” so soon. The shortage is still too tremendous. But Mr. Malone worries little about 30,000,000 people; he has the investors and real estate interests on his mind.

New Wrinkle

The landlord lobby in Congress has a new wrinkle in its tissue of lies. It points to the fact that in the middle income brackets only 16.4 per cent of the consumer’s dollar goes for rent, whereas in 1939 the percentage was 19.6. This is supposed to prove that the landlords are being robbed. What it actually shows is that the cost of other items in the consumer’s budget has skyrocketed. At this point the landlords wring their hands and protest that for them too the cost of everything has gone up – even those services which they no longer give their tenants. The tenants are supposed to forget that in spite of percentages and costs and what-have-you, landlord profits are today over twice pre-war levels.

Drew Pearson predicted in his broadcast on Sunday that President Truman will veto the. rent boosting bill being prepared by the Republican senators. Whether or not Congress can pass such a bill over the presidential veto is problematic. This does not mean that the prospects for the continuation of present rent ceilings are good or sufficient.

On the contrary, just as OPA collapsed under the pressure of big business and the black market, long before its official expiration, so rent controls will be broken all along the line – while officially they will still be on the books. Major Fleming’s ruling opens the door to just such an unofficial collapse.

The situation cries out for direct action by the tenants. Tenant resistance to rent boosts must be organized house by house, block by block and neighborhood by neighborhood. The profits of landlords are not the only figure on the rise. According to the January 31 issue of United States News, “living costs are still rising slowly.” Wage demands to make up for the tremendous drop in the purchasing power of the dollar are the next order of business, along with unyielding resistance to a rent squeeze. Unions and tenant organizations together have a job to do.

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