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Susan Green

Abuses Under Present Rent Law Grow

Rent Control Office Aids Gougers

(15 March 1948)

From Labor Action, Vol. 12 No. 11, 15 March 1948, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Court reports appearing in the press give some slight indication of the abuses practiced under present rent control laws.

For instance, there was the case in Brooklyn where a landlord raised a tenant’s rent $6 a month because of the addition of a baby to the family. Moreover, the landlord was not acting on his own. The Office of Rent Control, which yon may have supposed looks after the interests of tenants, actually okayed the boost. The tenant, a Navy veteran, had just paid an increase of $2.75 a month allowed the landlord as a “hardship” increase. When it came to being penalized for having a baby, the tenant balked and took the case to court. The Municipal Court Judge was moved to comment: “Shall we have birth control in New York because the expediter puts a penalty on babies?”

One wonders how many similar abuses are absorbed by tenants throughout the country who haven’t the information or the means to protect themselves – to protect themselves not only against landlords but also against the Office of Rent Control.

Though it is expected that existing federal rent control will be continued for another year, no improvement in the law for the protection of tenants can be hoped for. The stop-gap bill passed by both House and Senate and signed by the President extended present controls till the end of March. Some time in March Congress will again take the matter up. Substantially the same law will be passed to run to 1949. As a matter of fact, the Senate already voted to extend controls till April 30, 1949, but because there wasn’t time to resubmit the matter to the House before the February 29 deadline the stop-gap law was also passed. The Senate’s renewal bill permits the same 15 per cent increase by “mutual agreement;” And the Senate took the teeth out of the bill by eliminating punishment for violators of rent regulations.

Certainly this law will give no relief to tenants such, for instance, as those occupying a squalid two-story frame house in the Bronx at 660 East 175th Street. The case of these victims of rent gouging became public when the landlord attempted an eviction of one of the tenants. Court testimony revealed that the tenant was paying $125 a month for four rooms which could not be called an apartment, because they are four rooms in a one-family house. The tenant, his wife and four children have to use a basement toilet and share the second-floor bath with the seven adults and a child living in the four second-floor rooms – rental $160. Two attic rooms were shared by four adults paying $100 a month. The Municipal Court judge before whom the case came personally investigated the house and found cracked and plasterless walls, just one kitchen for the second and attic floors, and no fire escapes for these nineteen human beings occupying ten rooms; the furnace was cold and there was no oil. Said the judge: “I was shocked at conditions in that house. Human rights are being trampled upon.” Not only there, judge!

The underlying housing shortage which makes such robbery possible is being handled by the politicians with a ten-foot pole. They don’t go near it. The Taft-Ellender-Wagner bill, which has some good features, slumbers on in the Congressional hopper. There’s another bill introduced by Senator McCarthy (Rep., Wis.) which places more emphasis on “encouraging” private enterprise and less on public projects – but no action. The last politician to grasp the ten-foot pole and make some gestures with it is President Truman.

Truman’s Recommendations

From his blissful vacation in the sunny Caribbean – just to show the poor suckers shivering in crowded rooms at home that he hasn’t forgotten them – he sent a message to Congress on housing. He said things about the desperate housing situation that many of us already know. Two and a half million married couples are forced to live with other families. Five million houses are no longer habitable. Of the new houses being built only a small percentage are apartment dwellings and the great majority are private homes built for sale at prices far above the means of those most in need of housing. Where existing law has decontrolled living quarters, rents have risen more than 60 per cent So the President makes some recommendations. He thinks one million new houses and apartments should be erected annually for the next ten years in urban areas. He covered in his message everything from increased production methods, wages, legislation authorizing federal funds for local housing authorities and for slum clearance, to giving aid to capital and insurance of investment returns. Nobody is to be offended, everybody is to be pleased, and houses are to be built. Such messages read well in an election year. Actually there’s still that ten-foot pole.

Incidentally, the President is very much off on his facts where it is important to be right – either he is off or the National Housing Committee is. The President said that 15 per cent of the new housing built in 1947 was rental housing. Henry M. Propper of the National Housing Committee, testifying before a Congressional committee on housing, reported that only eight per cent of the new houses started in 1947 were multi-family apartments for rent. That’s quite a difference. Again, the President spoke of one million units added in 1947. while Mr. Propper’s figure was only 850,000 units started in 1947. That also is quite a difference, when you think of people having or not having a decent place to live in.

The housing problem was reported the number one worry of the mayors of 250 cities who recently met in New York for their seventeenth annual conference. In cities in Michigan and in Kentucky, in the East and in the West, the crying need is for housing. However, the mayors’ worry did not materialize into anything tangible. They too have that ten-foot pole.

Job for Labor Party

People like the steamfitter who was up for eviction from his four-room substandard home for which he was paying S125 a month until liis plant struck and he could no longer pay that extortion, will have to come forth and press for a solution of the housing crisis. The working people will’ have to raise their voices and demand an adequate building proram – and rent control that really protects the tenants! But to whom can such demands be made?

Certainly not to the capitalist politicians schooled in the art of evading the people’s most vital needs. On the contrary, labor must write its demands into the platform of its own party, an independent Labor Party, opposed to the capitalist Democratic and Republican Parties and also to the Stalinoid Wallace party.

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