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Susan Green

Landlord Lobby Wins Green Light
for Rent-Gouge Bill in Congress

(28 March 1949)

From Labor Action, Vol. 13 No. 13, 28 March 1949, pp. 1 & 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The bills in both houses of Congress designed to murder rent control, sharply underline the need for an independent labor party in this country, a party through which the working people can send men and women of their own kind, of their own class, to govern for them. Nobody who experiences in his own life and in his own pocket the effects of the housing shortage and the dire need for rent control, could possibly do to the millions of tenants of this country what Congress is doing. The lawyers, businessman and hardened politicians legislating to raise rents all along the line and to give the landlords a free hand as soon as possible, are of the same social layer as the landlords and they act that way.

Last week the Senate Banking and Currency Committee – why this committee should have jurisdiction on rent control has still to be explained – completed a bill to take the place of the law expiring on March 31, and submitted it to the Senate with recommendation for passage.

The wording of this recommendation is unbelievable when checked against the provisions of the bill.

“... any increases in rents today would be at the expense of diets, medical care, clothing and other necessities of life of millions of American citizens ...”

From this you would suppose that the bill wipes out all rent increases and carries out the campaign promises of the Democratic Party, as well as of some campaigning Republicans, to do away with the obnoxious fifteen-percent “voluntary” increase in the existing law. This is what you would suppose, but this is not the case. The, proposed bill before the Senate, upon which it will act this week, proposes a down-the-line ten-percent increase and nothing voluntary about it. And those tenants who have already “volunteered” increases of five, seven or ten percent will be penalized by having to pay up to the fifteen percent permitted by the expiring law.

Nothing ... to Them

There is only one interpretation of the committee’s words taken with the provisions of the bill. These politicians do not consider a ten-percent boost an “increase in rents today.” To these “servants of the people” with their fancy salaries and their additional expense accounts, four, five or six dollars more or less a month is negligible – to them merely the price of one dinner. When they talk about diet, medical care, clothing and other necessities of life, they are mouthing words without the content of life in them. To the working class family four, five or six dollars a month mean eggs, milk, a pair of shoes, a trip to the dentist.

Here’s some more from these capitalist politicians who bleed for the people. “Already we are concerned about the increase in unemployment, the decrease in savings, the unhealthy growth of installment purchases and small loans, the decline and leveling off in trade and industrial production.” So reports the Senate Banking and Currency Committee to the Senate.

Again, if words mean anything, one must conclude that this committee is dead against any rent increases. Sure, sure, it is against “any” rent increase, but a mere ten-percent, a mere ten-percent, is no increase at all. Many workers arc out of work, many are on part time, families formerly with several workers now have only one, family take-home pay is in too many cases greatly reduced. But the Senate Banking and Currency Committee, perhaps because it is used to dealing with large figures unknown to working people, considers a ten-percent boost not “any increase” at all.

This Senate committee wants credit for taking better care of the tenants than the House did. The House passed a bill, a couple of weeks ago, eliminating the fifteen-percent “voluntary” boosts but allowing landlords “a reasonable return on reasonable property values.” This provision in the House bill would undoubtedly put tenants in the landlords’ frying pan. However, to be put definitely into the fire by the Senate bill’s ten- percent rent raise is no remedy.

Time to Act

It is up to the people who cast their votes for the Democratic Party because it promised a two-year rent control extension, the elimination of the fifteen-percent “voluntary” increase, stronger eviction control and criminal penalties for landlords violating the controls, it is up to these people to demand now – without loss of time because there is no time to lose – that the politicians make good their promises. The Senate as a body this week acts on the bill submitted to it. Then Senate and House joint committee will meet to compromise their differences. Right now is when the unions, tenant and consumer groups, still have a chance to influence the outcome by mass demonstrations and protest.

Up to this point the three-million-dollar real estate and landlord lobby has, in effect, been writing the bills. Senator Sparkman, Democrat of Alabama, chairman of the subcommittee that worked on the bill, without batting an eyelash, stated that the committee adopted the ten-percent increase clause because “of a general feeling that landlords were entitled to a greater return to meet the increasing costs of living and operation.” His committee claimed that it had been unable to obtain accurate information on landlords’ “net operating position” – although it called this information the key to whether raises were justified. But “owing to the many complaints of real hardship on the part of landlords,” the ten-percent boosts are to be imposed on tenants.

Why didn’t the committee get information on the “net operating position” of landlords, another way of saying profits? At the end of 1946 it was known that the gross operating income of large and small apartment house owners averaged over thirty- five percent over 1939. It is also known that while costs rose for landlords as for everyone else, they cut down their expenses drastically by giving less service of every kind, less heat, less elevator service, less porter service, less painting and repairing. So that, as Senator Paul Douglas who opposed the Senate committee bill pointed out: “The net income position of landlords has been improved to a much greater degree than you would think from the figures on gross rents.”

Decontrol, Too

Today, the landlords as a group benefit from the price recession much more than do the tenants as a group. For example, fuel oil, a big item, is down considerably in price, and other items can be mentioned. The trumped- up “hardships” of the landlords weigh heavier in the scale of values of the capitalist politicians than do the real battle of the working people to maintain a decent standard of living.

While the clauses in the proposed laws to raise rent arouse the greatest indignation, these are not the only features that must be defeated. While the House bill provides for a fifteen-month extension of so-called rent control and the bill before the Senate calls for twelve months with a three-month period of grace to prepare for de-control, there are other sections in both bills that spell the earlier end of federal control.

The House bill, which would immediately take one hundred rental areas out of control, also would permit any city, county or state to take itself out of federal control. The bill before the Senate would empower any State legislature to do likewise. If either of these bills is permitted to become law, the landlords would have a field day. Their local lobbies would get busy; local governments would begin to see good reasons for getting out from under federal rent control.

Drew Pearson reported over the air that he attempted to find out from mayors and governors throughout the country their opinion on the need of federal control. Unanimously, from California, Michigan, Massachusetts, Maryland and elsewhere, word came back to him that chaos would follow the lifting of federal control, that the housing and rent situation is almost as bad as three years ago, that it is a matter for federal, not local handling.

This same Senate Banking Committee which wrote a clause for the chaotic end of federal control by local action, though you may not believe it, said that the removal of rent controls now would increase rents twenty-five to one hundred per cent and “perhaps touch off strikes and a new wage-price spiral.” Apparently, the committee was addressing itself to those staunchest supporters of the real estate lobby in the Senate, who want rent control to end immediately without any camouflage. Does the committee really think that the workers will take everything less than a twenty-five percent rent increase lying down? Does the committee think that the workers will accept a ten-percent boost in this major item of living expenses – and turn the other cheek?

All-Time Lesson

Another thing the people should know is that the bill before the Senate retains the clauses of the existing law which permit landlords to claim “hardship” and “comparability” increases. How many tenants have been victims of these landlord-loving provisions! The CIO reports that by virtue of the “comparability” clause rents in company houses in localities in Massachusetts have been boosted up to one hundred forty percent, and in Alabama up to three hundred twenty percent. It also reports that often in collective bargaining, companies owning their workers’ homes have, at the bargaining table, threatened to raise rents.

These are the things the workers thought would be ended if they voted for Truman, the Democratic Party and its vaunted program. There is still time for the workers to remind the majority party of its campaign promises, by intervening to prevent the passage of these tenant-squeezing laws.

And for an all-time lesson, let the working people learn from what the Democratic and Republican politicians are doing that the formation of an independent class party, a class party of their own, can no longer be deferred.

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