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Susan Green

Compromises Cripple Rent Control Bill

(21 March 1949)

From Labor Action, Vol. 13 No. 12, 21 March 1949, p. 1.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

“If you destroy rent control in March you’ll have strikes in May,” warned Representative Wright Patman, Democrat of Texas, in the House debate on renewal of rent control.

Representative Abraham J. Multer, Democrat of New York, spoke along similar lines: “This country will be plunged into chaos the like of which has never been seen if controls are lifted.”

Chester Bowles, now governor of Connecticut and formerly OPA chief, was alarmed at the sentiment he found in Washington to let rent controls lapse, a sentiment largely created by the three- million-dollar real estate and landlord lobby. “Should this come to pass,” said Bowles, “we would have riots all over the United States in a very short time. I don’t think you can possibly exaggerate what might happen.”

These politicians are not overstating the feeling of the people for the continuance of rent control in a form which will really protect them. There are maybe 14,000,000 families who will be affected if the rent control bill is allowed to lapse on March 31 or soon thereafter, or if such a measure as may be passed will not give them actual protection. It would be well for tenants to be prepared to defend their right to have a home at a rent which is not highway robbery. Housing Expeditor Tighe Woods predicts that rents would rise fifty to sixty per cent were control ended. The choice would be to pay or to be evicted.

Judging by the way things are going, with the filibuster in the Senate holding up all legislation and with the House whittling down the Administration bill till it looks like a toothpick, the people ought to be on their toes, ready to make themselves heard on rent control, in effective and organized action.

Last week the Administration Democrats in the House, by the skin of their teeth, prevented the passage of the Republican measure to drop all rent control within ninety days from March 31. This Republican bill also had plenty of Democratic support. For example, E.E. Cox, Democrat from Georgia, was all for continuing controls for ninety days “and then have the whole thing thrown out the window.”

The final decision comes in the House this week. With the close vote of 178 to 163 defeating the Republican measure, the Administration Democrats are very shaky against the strength of the opposing coalition. The latter is expected to make a final try to defeat the Administration bill, even though, in its present form, it represents a number of crippling compromises.

Yielding to the pressure of the real estate and landlord lobby and of such “enlightened” legislators as Representative Jackson, Republican from Calfornia – who, amid outbursts of applause from the floor and from the lobby-crowded gallery, declared that rent control is the “high road of State Socialism” – the Administration Democrats in the House are cheating the tenants of the nation.

In the first place, instead of the original provision to extend control for two years, the bill now contains a time-limit of only fifteen months. Besides this major concession, the Administration Democrats agreed to abandon altogether the ceilings on rents in one hundred rural and small city areas. This won over some Democrats who didn’t want rent control in their own districts but had no objection to controls in other places. But the concession that is the cream of the crop is to include a clause assuring landlords “a reasonable RETURN ON THE REASONABLE VALUE OF THEIR PROPERTY.”

One report said that “Both Democrats and Republicans agreed that was one provision that undermined some of the opposition to the bill.” And why not? While the Administration bill provides for the end of the fifteen per cent so-called voluntary rent Increases that have been forced upon so many tenants, the compromise provision for “a reasonable return on the reasonable value of their property” could well result in MORE than fifteen per cent rent increases. Landlords are clever that way.

In all respects the bill falls far short of what the President led tenants to expect. While there is a provision against mass evictions and one by which the government can sue landlords for “triple damages” for rent overcharges, this involved process is no substitute for a direct provision requiring fines and jail sentences for ceiling violators. These latter powers the bill does not have. Also, there is no clause in the bill to overcome the shameful, thriving black market in rentals, where a tenant must pay a large bonus to the landlord or buy a lot of useless sticks of furniture at unheard of prices.

Therefore, even if the compromised Administration bill passes in the House and in the Senate, it has so many loopholes that the unions, tenant and consumer organizations, and all such groups, will have to be ready for defensive action against the landlords. But because of the filibuster in the Senate, no rent control bill at all may be passed. The mass of tenants affected should be in a position to take organized offensive action to get a protective law on the books.

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