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Susan Green

Rent Control Murder Case:
Facts Point to the Guilty

(12 September 1949)

From Labor Action, Vol. 13 No. 37, 12 September 1949, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Those who think that the capitalist government of these United States can evolve into a protector of the welfare of the common people must be doing some soul-searching these days in connection with rent control.

The 1949 law, which went into effect April 1, crippled rent control with its provision allowing both the housing expediter and local governments to decontrol areas, and all but murdered it with its concession to the landlords of “reasonable return” on investment – this latter constituting in effect a blanket rent increase.

Last week LABOR ACTION reported how the remaining life is being squeezed out of rent control by the cut in budget appropriations for this purpose. The powerful real-estate lobby, riot having fully succeeded in abolishing rent Control in law, completed its victory in the appropriations committees of Congress. This is how our much-tooted system of checks and balances operates – the checks, operating against the people and the balances tipping in favor of the vested interests.

Slash After Slash

Since last week it has become more evident how “streamlining control operations and affecting every possible economy” – as Housing Expediter Woods’ office puts it – will affect the tenants of the country,

First it must be made clear that the newspaper reports have been giving a false picture of the extent of the cut in appropriations for rent control. Most reports were that the slash was from $21,667,500 to $17,500,000. This is true, but the former figure already represented a drastic reduction.

The Bureau of the Budget had requested $26,750,000 for Expediter Woods’ office. The Senate Appropriations Committee had reduced this figure to $24,075,000. Then the Senate itself lowered the amount to $21,667,500. Finally the Senate and House in conference trimmed the appropriation down still further to $17,500,000.

Could we say that the progressive decrease in appropriations marked the progressive influence of the realestate lobby? At any rate, the “representatives of the people,” voting all told a $40,000,000,0000 budget, did not vote a measly few million to keep up even the pretense of rent control.

Another aspect of the cut in appropriations that has been played down in the press is that President Truman signed the bill containing this shameful cut. in the rent-control budget. The excuse given by and for the president is that the bill also contained appropriations for other departments, so he could not veto the bill. This is a shabby excuse.

Good Riddance?

In his campaign President Truman pledged himself to protect the tenants of the country with an adequate rent-control system. He could have easily put the case of the slash in appropriations before the country, showing that the action of Congress amounts to a breach of the law, so that he had to refer the bill back to Congress for reconsideration of the rent-control appropriation. At the same time he could insist on a separate bill, making the appropriations for the other departments, for his signature.

It is true that the Dixiecrat-Republican coalition works against the president, but everything cannot be blamed on that. It would seem that the White House also considers rent control more of a nuisance than anything else, well gotten rid of by blaming the Dixierat-Republican coalition.

Senator Paul Douglas, administration Democrat from Illinois, did make a motion to reconsider the appropriation, but then agreed to withdraw the motion and to bring the matter up again in January. He covered his retreat with fine fighting words: “If in January or later I find that because of my trusting nature I have been seduced in this matter, I shall naturally feel it my duty to try to tear my seducers from stem to stern.” He was referring to Senators who said they would favor voting additional appropriations NEXT YEAR if the need for continued rent-control enforcements still exists, at that time.

He Wasn’t Raped

Senator Douglas, it seems, was not too unwilling to be seduced. It is obvious that there won’t be too much difference in the housing situation in a few months time, but once the rentcontrol office is pared down to fit the present reduced appropriation, very few Congressmen are going to see the need to raise the funds next year. The “need for continued rent-control enforcement” is quite naturally going to disappear – in Congress.

Fitting the rent-control machinery into the reduced appropriations allowed by Congress, Expediter Woods’ office issued thirty-day dismissal notices to nearly 1,000 employees of seven regional offices. This will reduce to a non-functioning basis the regional offices in Boston, New York, Cleveland, Atlanta, Dallas, Chicago and San Francisco – all heavily populated areas. Rent-control office employees will be cut from 5,600 to around 3,000.

In the New York regional office 270 workers have been discharged. This office has had supervisory jurisdiction over all the local offices in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland – a wide and populous area – handling appeals for the whole area.

Along with the dismissal of the employees, some 200 appeals by both landlords and tenants have been thrown out of this office. If the appellants have the means to do so, they are permitted to transfer their cases to Washington.

Concentrating all appeals in Washington is a device for technically preserving the right of appeal, while actually it will be impossible for the central office to handle all local appeals within anyone’s lifetime. Among the cases thrown out of the New York regional office was one in which the landlords, having asked for $15,000 additional annual rent on a “hardship” claim, received from the housing expediter $26,000, and the tenants were appealing rent boosts of from $20 to $40 monthly.

Another announcement in the past week was to the effect that rent controls have been lifted in “fringe” areas in nine states, namely Illinois, Indiana. Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, North Carolina, Wyoming, Vermont and West Virginia. “Fringe” areas are presumably communities with less than 100,000 population.

Expediting Decontrol

It was explained by the expediter’s office that this decontrol has nothing to do with the cutback now in progress, but is the result of checkups showing that rental housing demand “has been reasonably met.” Expediter Woods is still “studying,” or will study when he comes from his vacation, where the further cutbacks necessitated by the limited appropriations are to be made

However, the principle has already been established that communities of less than 100,000 will be decontrolled. Whether this will also apply to the many suburbs of New York City is not yet clear.

Expediter Woods, against whom protests have been made by tenants and for whose removal the CIO has asked, has been acting as if the cut in appropriations is the one opportunity he was awaiting to decontrol more housing. He immediately called for decontrol of one third of the areas then under control. His legal staff had to remind him of the formality of complying with the law, which permits decontrol only when “supply and demand for housing seem to be in balance.” From now on Woods is going to see an awful lot of balance between supply and demand.

Poorest Are Hit

Woods has aroused the anger of the CIO and other organizations for the extent of decontrol he has ordered since April 1 when the new law went into effect. According to the CIO News, since that date 1,231,740 rental units have been decontrolled, leaving the tenants without any protection.

The CIO News writes: “Most of them were hit by action of Federal Housing Expediter Tighe Woods, acting on his own initiative. Second largest number were effected by decontrol voted by city councils acting under the rent laws’ (local option) section.”

As pointed out by the CIO News, the poorest families are the hardest hit. For instance, when an unemployed laborer gets a rent boost from $15 to $20, that $5 a month is a stupendous increase. And when a poor mother supporting two children gets a rent raise from $12 to $15, those $3 mean food out of children’s mouths and clothes off their backs.

The CIO has been active locally in helping tenants. In Nebraska, for instance, the CIO, veteran’s groups and others are busy gathering signatures to a petition protesting, a state decontrol act. If sufficient names are obtained, the law will be nullified and the question submitted to referendum.

In Chicago the CIO, again with other organizations, is combating a move by landlords to obtain a general 45 per cent rent increase. The request, first refused by the local board, is now before the Court of Appeals. In Los Angeles also, the Greater L.A. CIO Council is conducting a survey to aid in its anti-decontrol struggle there. Thus far it has revealed illegal rent boosts as high as $40 a month.

These efforts of the CIO on behalf of tenants are good and should be widely supported. However, on a national scale, neither the CIO nor the AFL has sponsored or called for any action either against the anti-tenant rent law of 1949 or against the scandalous congressional appropriations.

Nor has organized labor pushed its own rent-control program, to be fought for in opposition to the current decontrol program. Is the leadership of organized labor paralyzed by its own support of Truman and the Democratic Party?

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