About 15 Georgetown students joined a rally on Oct. 26 demanding the expansion of rent control in the District. A variety of unions, tenant groups, and other organizations, including Georgetown’s Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor (KI), hosted the rally at Lamont Plaza in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood to launch the Reclaim Rent Control campaign.
The District’s current rent control policy is set to expire at the end of next year. The current law caps inflation-adjusted rent increases at 2 percent per year, applies only to units built before 1975, and includes exemptions for small-scale landlords and certain units undergoing renovations. According to the KI Director of Organizing Alex Taliadoros (SFS ’14), as the District Council considers renewing the legislation, a coalition of local organizations has formed the Reclaim Rent Control campaign to “repair, strengthen, and expand rent control protection in D.C.”
Regina Welsh, a bartender, union leader, and renter in Ward 1, spoke at the rally about the rising costs of living that are driving D.C. residents out of the city. “Without rent control, even the guaranteed gains and benefits in my union contract will not be enough to keep me in D.C.,” she said. “I’m so committed to fighting to reclaim rent control not just for myself, but also for all of my neighbors struggling with the fear of uncertainty each and every day.”
Irene Koo (COL ’17), an organizer of the rally, connected rent control to D.C.’s declining black population and racially divided neighborhoods. “Rent control in D.C. has proven to be one of the most important tools to protect against gentrification and further segregation in the district, so I think it’s really important as a racial justice issue,” she said.
Signs at the rally included messages such as “Stop Landlord Greed,” “Tenant Power,” and “Gentrification is a class war – Tenants must fight back.” Rally goers chanted “Es un derecho tener un techo” (“It’s a right to have a roof”) and “Housing is a human right, that is why we have to fight.”
Among the proposed changes to the law are expanding rent control to cover units constructed before 2005 and units owned by small-scale landlords, who are currently exempt from the policy if they own four or fewer units. Proponents also seek to limit rent increases for covered units to inflation, as opposed to the 2 percent plus inflation currently allowed.
However, rent control legislation is not without its detractors. Some argue that rent control does little to alter the imbalance in supply and demand that creates a housing shortage and rising prices in the first place. Others argue that, by keeping prices low, rent control discourages construction of additional housing units and actually exacerbates housing scarcity.
The rally’s speakers included both English and Spanish speakers, and featured live translation to allow speakers of both languages to follow along.
Taliadoros discussed the role of students in local activism. “We want to make sure we’re not just being tourists in the city,” he said. “We want to make sure we’re looking out for our neighbors.”
In addition to hosting trips to rallies and community events, KI offers Georgetown students paid opportunities to work as organizers for community organizations, as well as to conduct research for labor rights groups.
Koo explained how, upon graduating from Georgetown and participating in the Center for Social Justice (CSJ), she has continued to work as an activist in the city. “I first got into activism and social justice through CSJ programs,” she said, “and then after graduation, I met a lot of people through those clubs and organizations, and I was able to find a really great community.”
The District Council has already introduced legislation to renew rent control in its current form for another decade. On November 13th, the D.C. Council will hold a hearing on the legislation and invites individuals to testify publicly on the topic.
Images courtesy of Ryan Remmel.