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Susan Green

Congress Agrees on Legislation
to Crack Rent Control

(4 April 1949)

From Labor Action, Vol. 13 No. 14, 4 April 1949, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

On March 29 a Senate-House committee ironed out the differences between the Senate and House so-called rent control bills, and brought up as foul and flagrant an example of favoritism for a section of the propertied class as is possible to imagine.

On the same day, as if to give a living testimonial to the rank unfairness of the compromise bill, 30,500 people applied for 1,357 apartments in Woodside Houses, a New York City project in Queens. Applicants came at the rate of 6,000 an hour, or 100 a minute, to the thirty City Housing Authority offices. Ninety per cent of the eager applicants were war veterans, still without homes – and, shall it be added, still without the permanent peace that the last imperialist war they fought was supposed to bring.

This was only the first day that applicants were accepted. How many more thousands will apply for these 1,357 apartments? How many more will there be like one of the applicants, a veteran of the Philippine campaign, living with his two small children and a sick wife in a cold-water flat, five flights to walk up?

“I should get in.” he said. “After all, I have two children. We have to climb five, flights upstairs and the doctor said my wife shouldn’t climb stairs because she is sickly and underweight.”

“Home Rule” Decontrol

Here is the picture of the housing situation still existing today. Here is the living argument for ap adequate housing program and for honest rent control by the government. Here is the background against which must be considered the iniquitous bill that the Democratic Congress is about to pass and the Democratic President is about to sign.

The two aspects of the bill most important to the many millions of anxious tenants are first that it is really a decontrol bill, although it purports to extend control for fifteen months, and second that while it does not say it is removing all rent ceilings. actually it does by the privileges it extends to the landlords.

On the first count, the fifteen- month official extension is vitiated by the so-called “home rule” provision also contained in the bill. States, cities, towns and villages will have the right, under the bill, to decontrol rent, if the Governors approve. This “home rule” provision was placed in the bill in spite of the testimony before Congress of the Conference of Mayors that “States and municipal governments are ill-equipped to administer rent controls in a form which would give adequate protection to the people of our cities.”

This “home rule” provision was inserted in the bill in spite of the fact that – as practically every man, woman and child knows – THE local interests are more often than not REAL ESTATE interests, who actually control political machines and, sad to say, also local governments. These interests want decontrol.

Therefore, it is a deception to call what Congress is going to pass a rent control bill. It is in reality a DECONTROL bill. This should be noted along with the fact that the fifteen- month period of control make-believe is nine months less than what the Democratic Party promised – and the promise was for real control, not make-believe.

“Reasonable” Robbery

On the point of rent ceilings, the senators on the joint committee agreed to drop the provision of the Senate bill for a boost for everybody of ten per cent in two installments. Presumably this didn’t give the real estate interests enough elbow room. The bone of contention then became whether to adopt the provision of the House bill allowing the landlords “a reasonable return on reasonable value” or to adopt the substitution offered by the senators to permit the landlords “a fair net operating income.” All that the tenants of the country can make out of these two phrases is that they both mean rent increases – and substantial ones.

Senator Paul Douglas, one of the most liberal of the liberal Democrats and an the joint Senate-House committee, voted for the “fair net operating income” provision as the “lesser of two evils.” It should not be forgotten that Paul Douglas and the whole Democratic Party were supported by the majority of the people not because the latter wanted an evil, either a lesser or a greater one. The people ashed for some positive good in their behalf on the problems of housing, rent control and many others. The people have, as usual, been sold out. The joint committee, after much bickering, finally adopted the provision for “a fair net operating income” as the measure for rent increases.

Although the provision specifies what will be considered in determining “a fair net operating income” when the landlord comes before the local housing expediter for rent increases, it is pointless here to enumerate these specifications. It is not what a law specifies that makes the law, but rather the number of loopholes left in it. This provision has plenty. The real estate interests with their lobbies and lawyers and skill where self-aggrandizement is involved, will lose no fair or foul opportunity to put the squeeze on their tenants. Above all, every local housing expediter and every clerk in every area rent office will understand that this is a law to RAISE rents, a law for the landlords.

Action Indicated

Perhaps the only other time in recent history when the profit-grabbing capitalist system showed itself so openly and so shamelessly as now in this rent decontrol bill, was during the war when the soldiers were giving their lives on the battlefields and the workers were expending their strength in the factories at frozen wages, while the profits of the capitalists exceeded anything in history.

Today, when the lack of adequate housing – an elementary human need that capitalism has not provided – puts the many-million tenants of the country at’ the mercy of the landlords. except as checked by adequate rent control, Congress refuses to enact this needed control.

Though at this writing the Senate and House have not yet passed the compromise bill, and though some disagreement is expected in the Senate from the Republicans who think the bill still does not give the landlords enough freedom to squeeze the tenants, probabilities are that the bill discussed here will become the law, with the President’s signature and all. Then, certainly, the tenants will have to gird their loins to fight in their own interests – or else.

Tenant organizations will have to be strengthened where they exist and formed where they do not exist. Only by determined united action on the part of tenants will landlords be curbed in their demands. Here the unions will undoubtedly do their part, especially if the rank and file members call upon their unions to help them as tenants.

Other action also is called for. If’ this rent decontrol law is to be repealed, the unions, tenant groups and other people’s organizations will have to engage in an effective agitational campaign. The Democratic Party promised, before election, rent ceilings at the 1947 levels, a two-year extension of real control, criminal penalties for landlord violations, strong anti-eviction provisions. The Democratic Party is the majority in Congress. Let if give the people the rent control law it promised.

Lastly, as Labor Action keeps pointing out, such demonstrations of the profit motive not merely guiding but dominating the politicians of both capitalist parties, must make clearer the need for the formation of a working class party motivated by people’s needs.

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