Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Takoma Park council takes first vote on rent control

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The Takoma Park City Council took the first of two votes Monday night on changes to the city’s rent control legislation, despite objections from residents that the council should table a vote until all of its members were present.

Only three council members and Mayor Kathy Porter voted Monday in favor of approving the legislation for a final vote at the council’s next meeting. Included in the vote were two amendments to the draft that would adjust the formula for the proposed ‘‘fair return” petitions and exempt two-unit owner-occupied buildings.

Councilwomen Joy Austin-Lane (Ward 1) and Colleen Clay (Ward 2) were absent, and Councilman Bruce Williams (Ward 3), who had been on vacation over the last week, abstained from the vote until he could spend more time with the material.

Mayor Kathy Porter said amendments could be proposed by the absent council members before the council’s final vote at their next meeting Monday, the final meeting before the council’s August recess.

‘‘The council has spent several months working through this issue in great detail,” Porter said Monday of the possibility of postponing the vote. Porter added that the council had been criticized in the past for taking too long to reach consensus in the rent control debate.

Still, several residents listening to the discussion said the council was voting hastily.

‘‘This is too important to be voted on with a partial council presence. It’s simply too important,” said Seth Grimes, president of Safe Takoma and the Old Town Residents’ Association.

Several landlords at the meeting reiterated concerns voiced at the July 16 public hearing. The city’s rental stock is not in great shape already, they said, and keeping rent control on the books will only further diminish the quality of small-time landlords’ properties as landlords are having difficulties making ends meet.

The draft of the proposed ordinance as it stands includes the elimination of the city’s capital improvement and hardship rent increases in favor of a ‘‘fair return petition” that would be based on landlords’ operating expenses, and landlords’ base rents would be raised from 70 percent to 100 percent of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Consumer Price Index.

The council agreed on two amendments Monday. The first would tweak the formula for a ‘‘fair return” to increase the amount received by landlords who petition for it. The second would exempt owner-occupied buildings with two-units from the new rent control legislation.

Porter said the second amendment addressed Austin-Lane’s concerns at the July 16 meeting that more landlords would come under rent control under the new legislation.

Porter said voting in favor of the legislation did not mean the end of the discussion regarding rent control or affordable housing. She was already working with Clay on new affordable housing options, she said, and hoped to eventually explore the issue of affordable home ownership opportunities as well.

‘‘I want people to know we have been listening to you. We have tried to be as fair as we can,” Porter said Monday. ‘‘I think this is a fair law.”

To view changes to the rent control draft before a final vote on the legislation, visit