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Susan Green

Tenants Must Act Now to Save Rent Control!

(10 March 1947)

From Labor Action, Vol. 11 No. 10, 10 March 1947, pp. 1 & 8.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Rent control is being given the works by Congress, not only openly but by unadvertised flank attack. The latter is being done by gently removing financial support from OPA, whose remaining function is primarily rent control. Thus the House a few weeks ago, in its budgetary action, favored that OPA return to the Treasury its uncommitted moneys and refused to allot an additional sum. This week Senate recommendations, also in budgetary maneuverings, would cut the appropriations for OPA to such a figure as to compel that agency to fold up by June 30, 1947.

This flank attack comes on top of the direct move by the Senate Banking and Currency Committee, before which rent hearings have been held, for a 10 per cent across-the-board rent jump and for the end of OPA by December 1947 along with other landlord-favoring recommendations.

Unless tenants and workers give organized resistance and show by mass demonstrations their determination to keep rents where they are, Congress will go ahead. While there have been some demonstrations and while tenant organizations have come to life here and there, the demonstrations have been too thin and sporadic, and the great mass of the 50,000,000 tenants are still not moved to take organized action.

Added Hardship

The lifting of rent ceilings will bring added, unwarranted hardship upon those least able to stand it. A rent boost will step up the cost of living by another three or four per cent. And where will the extra rent money come from then in the average working class family? It will be made by cutting down the consumption of necessities. More rent for the landlords spells less food, less clothing, less medical and dental care for the population as a whole. It is estimated by those who watch the consumer market that a rent increase will take an extra $500,000,000 from consumers every month and slash the purchasing power of all of us by that much.

The end of rent control through OPA, even such as it is, will mean a Roman holiday for the realtors. While OPA has been little more than a laughing stock – since it allows upward of 30,000 rent increases a month and sanctioned one million “legitimate” evictions in 1946 – it has still been a buffer between the tenant and the grubbing landlord or the latter would not be so eager to get rid of OPA. Without this buffer and with rents beyond the ability of many families to pay, evictions will inevitably increase. The housing shortage, the inability of tenants to find other accommodations, will result in the disruption of families who may have to separate among relatives in order to get roofs over their heads. This is already happening.

How stop such a scandalous development? BY TENANT ORGANIZATIONS FORMED FOR MUTUAL PROTECTION! Tenants and workers must indeed protest in mass meetings against the further squeeze Congress is fixing for them, but self-reliance is the basic thing. Tenants must themselves be able to resist rent increases, to fight evictions, to get from landlords redecorating and other services to which they are entitled. By solidarity in joint action, they can succeed and win these results.

“Unbiased” Decision

What induced the Senate Banking and Currency Committee to recommend that 10 per cent rent increase and the end of OPA? The committee heard the side of tenants and of labor, and the committee heard the side of the realtors, whose profits are the highest of all time. Presumably the capitalist politicians brought unbiased minds to the question. But they thought that the arguments of the realtors for more profits weightier than those of tenants and of labor against boosting the cost of living.

The landlords pretend that the whole housing crisis is caused by rent control. The president of the National Association of Real Estate Boards brazenly stated that because “We have fixed rents at about 60 per cent of their proper level ... we have caused an expansion in demand – an extravagant and wasteful use of housing.” Get that, you veterans living with your in-laws or even you fortunate ones living in Quonset huts. Get that, you Negro veterans especially, who out of 250,000 temporary housing units for all veterans have been assigned 5,000, and of these only 1,1100 have been made actually available. Such reasoning can be reduced to this: A quart of liquid would go into a pint measure if the price of the pint measure would only be increased.

But of course the “serious” point in the Congressional mind in boosting rent and relaxing rent controls on new building is to provide “incentive” to private enterprise to invest its money in building homes. To which point, there is a human one to counter: Should children be deprived of milk, eggs, vegetables, of shoes or clothing, or a check-up by the doctor, while their parents pay rent high enough to give landlords the profit incentive the latter think they ought to have?

Rents and Houses

The need for housing is too basic and too compelling to be left to private enterprise, so-called. This great public lack must be filled by a government building program. LABOR ACTION and the Workers Party come out for a $250,000,000,000 federal building program for the next five years.

The rent question is intimately connected with the building question. Tenants and workers must organize not only for immediate protection against the landlords, but to demand a fundamental solution for the housing crisis. The solution is to take housing out of the greedy clutches of private enterprise.

It is not possible for capitalist politicians schooled in capitalist ideology to see this point. The veteran sharing a single room with a wife and three children, the worker whose rent bill deprives his children of certain foods, clothing or medical care, will have to do something about getting themselves a political party of their own – one that will see the point!

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