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Susan Green

Truman-Landlords Plan
Rent Raid on People

Landlord Lobby Gets Government
Backing in Latest Price Steal as Step
Toward Dumping Rent Ceilings Entirely

(25 November 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 47, 25 November 1946, pp. 1 & 8.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The next raid on the wages of workers and on the, pockets of the people as a whole has been well organised, and the raiders are about to pounce. Truman and the OPA, yielding to the power of the real estate industry, are going to beat the new Congress to it in raising rents all along the line.

What are the tenants, the mass consumers of housing, doing to meet the onslaught? Unless they organize in their apartment houses, unite in their blocks and communities, to resist by planned action, they will be defenseless against the landlords and the government.

“Required” for Whom?

When Truman declared the end of price control recently, keeping it only on sugar, rice and rent, he forecast, however, that “It may be that some adjustment of rents will be required.” Why required? Have not the landlords enjoyed the greatest bonanza in history? Have they not rented every hole in the wall and uninhabitable hovel at top rentals? Have they not given in return a minimum of service? But the landlords covet more than that.

They want to squeeze every dollar of profit out of the great housing need of the people. What is this nonsense of rent control, when the extreme scarcity of dwellings places landlords in a position to mark up their commodity as their own greed dictates, since people must have a place to lay their heads! So, taking a leaf out of the recent history of the meat industry, the real estate industry is striking against the people.

According to Housing Expediter Wilson Wyatt, some 2,000,000 dwellings should be under construction this year. However, by the end of September only around 800,000 dwellings were begun. Today government officials report, and real estate interests admit, that building is at a standstill. The only activity is in the field of converting old structures into some kind of living space. Different from the strikes of workers who fight FOR a decent life, the industrial powers strike AGAINST the attainment of a decent life by the mass.

Landlords Confess Greed

At the same time the landlords and realtors make known their greed in no uncertain terms. Robert R. Watson, president of the National Association of Manufacturers, at the Atlantic City convention of the National Association of Real Estate Boards, demanded a fifteen per cent boost in rents “to save thousands of landlords [poor things] from bankruptcy.” This, it might be said, is by way of a minimum demand.

The real estate interests desire the complete elimination of all controls on rent and of all ceilings of new dwellings. Boyd T. Bernard, president of the National Association of Real Estate Boards, called upon members of his organization to “wait for the new Congress on the Capitol steps with a proposal for cushioned decontrol of rents.”

Not that these profit-poachers are always and under all circumstances opposed to government interference. Not at all. For example, they would like the benefits of certain tax exemptions on new housing. Again, while they will brook no meddling by the Federal Housing Administration in private enterprise, they heartily approve of FHA as an insurer of mortgages. They are perfectly willing for the government to take the risks of private enterprise.

Effects of Rise

How do the strike of the real estate industry, the lifting of rent ceilings and controls on new housing, and a fifteen per cent rent boost affect the veterans and the rest of us? The government has estimated that about four million veterans wanted to build, buy or rent a home this year. With only 800,000 units begun by September, no wonder a group of Pacific veterans at a recent reunion suggested the slogan: “We’ll rent a tree by fifty-three!”

The removal of rent and price ceilings on new homes will make them prohibitive for practically everyone who needs them most. Ceilings now on new homes limit rentals to $80 a month and purchase prices to $10,000 – at least theoretically. According to government statistics, those veterans who want to rent homes have average earnings of $44 a week. Certainly they cannot afford to pay $80 a month for rent. The veterans who would like to buy a house average $48 a week in wages or earnings. People in this income level buying $10,000 homes simply become slaves to their homes for the best years of their lives. So the present situation is bad enough. Now imagine what it will be with all ceilings and controls off.

Finally, it is absolutely impossible for the working people as a whole to absorb a fifteen per cent increase. Already the discrepancy between wage increases and price increases has drastically cut the standard of living. According to government figures, which, be it remembered, never favor the workers, wage increases since 1941 amount to thirty-three per cent in hourly rates, while the cost of living has gone up forty-six per cent. That is neither an accurate picture of the wage nor the price situation.

The hourly rate increases tell nothing about reduced hours and reduced take-home pay. And every housewife can tell you that the cost of living has gone up a good deal more than forty-six per cent since 1941. However, these figures, unfavorable as they are to the worker, still show wages as far behind the cost of living. It is unthinkable for the workers to shell out for a fifteen per cent rent increase.

Such considerations, however, have not deterred the OPA’s Housing Rent Advisory Committee from submitting to the OPA three proposals which could have been written by the National Association of Real Estate Boards. This committee recommends to OPA (1) Elimination of rent ceilings on’ new housing and on converted housing; (2) systematic and progressive removal of property from control where owners offer tenants leases at increases of not more than fifteen per cent; (3) an immediate overall fifteen per cent increase. These are the measures that OPA is now considering.

There are rumors that OPA will want an overall ten per cent rent raise to the landlords. Intolerable as this Would be to tenants, it would not be acceptable to the real estate interests. They want their full demands, and the administration will give in, as it did to the meat industry. The outcome of the election has by no means stiffened the backs of the executive branches of the government.

For Direct Resistance

Relying on themselves, as they have to, what will the working people do to counter the latest raid on their wages and pockets? Undoubtedly, from coast to coast, there will be a storm of demands for wage increases to close the gap between wages and the cost of living. But there must also be direct resistance to the landlords through tenants’ committees working with the unions and taking planned action not to pay rent increases.

Finally, the housing shortage calls for removing the problem from the hands of the profit-poachers and for a government spending program of at least $250,000,000 to construct badly needed homes and public buildings in the next five years. How else can the people hold what they have and get more of what they so urgently need?

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