Category Archives: Will Jawando

Top Seventh State Stories, June 2020

By Adam Pagnucco.

These were the top stories on Seventh State in June ranked by page views.

1. Repeal the Linda Lamone for Life Law
2. Baltimore City’s Election Has a Problem
3. Will Talbot County Choose Tourism or Slavery?
4. Judge Candidate on Floyd Cops: “Lock Em Up”
5. Elrich Asks MCPS for Cuts
6. Jawando Ignored Public Information Act, Had Scant Evidence Before Filing Rent Control Bill
7. First School Board Results Favor Harris
8. MCPS Survey Responses on Distance Learning
9. Elrich’s Police Union Contract
10. It’s the CIP, Stupid! (Guest blog by Gus Bauman)

Congratulations to former Planning Board Chair Gus Bauman for making our top ten!

The break-out story of the month was the one about the Talbot Boys statue, which was shared dozens of times across the Eastern Shore. Now that Mississippi has removed the confederate battle flag from its state flag, there is no longer any excuse for Talbot County leaders to continue honoring the Confederacy.

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Jawando Ignored Public Information Act, Had Scant Evidence Before Filing Rent Control Bill

One may be the loneliest number, but apparently one documented claim of a rent increase was enough for Councilmember Will Jawando (D-At Large) to introduce rent control legislation that governs the entire county.

When he introduced his emergency rent control bill in response to the pandemic, I made repeated requests to Councilmember Jawando’s office for any evidence he had of rising rents that inspired him to file the bill.

I eventually received a public comment but not a scintilla of hard evidence, so I submitted a formal Maryland Public Information Act (MPIA) request on April 19 via his official email account: “Please consider this a request for any and all documents covered by the Public Information Act you have received related to rent increases during the pandemic. Thank you.”

Cecily Thorne, Jawando’s Chief of Staff, contacted me on April 21 after I wrote my initial post about the lack of evidence or logic “even from an amoral greed perspective” behind the rent control bill. She stated that “Councilmember Jawando asked me to forward some of the information we have been receiving from tenants related to rent increases” and included four redacted pieces of information.

Only one of these documents made a claim of a rent increase that was made both prior to the bill’s introduction and during the pandemic. (Another was notification given prior to the pandemic, while one involved late fees, not rent, and the last one was a somewhat complex situation sent after the bill’s introduction in any case.)

I spoke with Ms. Thorne shortly after receiving the information and told her directly of my MPIA request in the course of our discussion. Nonetheless, my request went completely ignored in violation of the law.

When I followed up on May 30 – after the mandatory 30-day disclosure deadline in state law had passed – Ms. Thorne remembered being made aware of a request (“You mentioned you made a request”), but also texted that “I have not seen one until now in writing” and “I did not receive a request formal from you” despite my having sent it to Councilmember Jawando’s official email and having mentioned it during our call.

The lack of response suggests that either (1) Councilmember Will Jawando’s office is highly disorganized, or (2) unaware of its legal responsibilities under the Public Information Act, or (3) willfully ignored the request in violation of the law. It could also be a combo platter.

Thanks to the efforts of Legislative Attorney Amanda Mihill, I received most, though not all, of the documents late last week. However, Jawando’s office excluded the unredacted copy of a previous document until I made mention that it was missing. Their response still excludes many documents attached to emails in violation of the law.

What’s Not in the Documents?

Despite Councilmember Jawando’s media claims, he had virtually no documentation that this was occurring before he decided to file the bill. Although Cecily Thorne stated that the emails she sent were only “some of the information,” the documents sent show otherwise. There was literally only the one claim mentioned above.

There are no copies of phone records listing people who called with complaints. Nor is there any evidence that the Councilmember’s staff contacted the landlord.

The only other evidence within the documents involves a few back and forth strategy emails with the Renters Alliance in which Councilmember Jawando says “as many examples as you can send will be helpful ahead of bill introduction.” The reply references only increases being seen in the same building as the sole complaint from a renter.

One case.

No wonder Councilmember Jawando was unresponsive to queries on this topic from not just myself but others despite the claims he made in the media.

Glass Bill Provides Meaningful Help

Fortunately, the Council took other action to address the larger problem, which is that many people who have lost their jobs, if only temporarily, cannot pay regardless of the level of rent.

The Council passed legislation introduced by Councilmember Evan Glass (D-At Large) that, among other provisions, appropriated an additional $2 million in rental assistance. This money helps people facing eviction directly. The county has also loosened the requirements to receive rental assistance in light of the ongoing crisis.

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Time to Bag Jawando’s Rent Control Bill?

Montgomery County Councilmember Will Jawando (D-At Large) introduced legislation to temporarily suspend the county bag tax and enact rent control to respond to the COVID-19 crisis. The first has already bit the dust and it looks increasingly like the second should too.

Bag Bill Bagged

Councilmember Jawando introduced a bill to suspend the county bag tax during the health crisis. Though cosponsored by all of his colleagues, except Councilmembers Evan Glass (D-At Large) and Tom Hucker (D-District 5), the bill received a lot of pushback.

Much like Councilmember Hans Riemer’s (D-At-Large) bill to allow businesses to suspend payments for alcohol to the county monopoly, it faced the problem that bonds are tied to the revenues. Additionally, the environmentally-focused Sierra Club was not happy.

In a rare story for a bill sponsored by seven of nine members, it was on the fast track to defeat instead of passage. Most would have let the bill die quietly at this point. Mystifyingly, Jawando chose instead to announce a full retreat by declaring victory:

Councilmember Will Jawando plans to withdraw Expedited Bill 17-20, Carryout Bag Tax Suspension after working collaboratively with members of the community. . .

County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles recommends “a number of strategies for using reusable bags including washing them between use, customers packing their own reusable bags at check out and frequently cleaning surfaces in baggage areas.”

In addition, the Department of Environmental Protection has agreed to work on a campaign and resources to remind consumers to wash their reusable bags that can be posted at grocery stores and retail establishments.

Jawando can trumpet his success in finding an “alternative solution” but it sure sounds suspiciously like the status quo.

Rent Control: A Solution in Search of a Problem?

Now, Councilmember Jawando is pressing ahead with a rent control bill that is scheduled to have a hearing on April 21 (tomorrow) and a full council vote on April 23 (Thursday).

Jawando has explained to the media that his office has received “multiple reports” of rent going up 20, 30, 40 percent. He also expressed concern that at the end of the crisis that “You’re going to see people try to raise rents to get out people who can’t pay. And then you’re going to see a spike in evictions and then you’re going to try to bring people in at higher rents to recoup the loss.”

As Adam Pagnucco previously reported, the chambers of commerce have pushed back very hard on these claims:

We were deeply disappointed by the reckless statements you made. . . claim[ing] that landlords were instituting 20 – 40 percent rent increases during COVID-19.

The most offensive premise of the interview was the impression that rent gouging was a rampant and widespread issue. We were taken aback by these allegations and reached out to our landlord members to determine if any of them had implemented of that magnitude. To the contrary, we learned that none of our members reported any rent increase, let alone a 20 – 40 percent increase.

The claim that widespread rent hikes are now happening makes no sense.

No landlord wants to lose a regularly paying tenant now even if they have to make some adjustments and take some losses. There is no guarantee you can fill the vacancy and you certainly won’t be able to do so until this crisis ends.

If anything, rents may fall as demand declines due to mass unemployment. So much for recouping losses by jacking up rents, which is just not how rental markets work. Landlords can only charge what the market will pay.

If a landlord tries to raise rents now, tenants can just not pay due to the moratorium. Such a mean and stupid landlord may well be out even more rent as well as all of the time and expense of evicting someone once that is again legal. The landlord then also loses yet more rent due to the time it takes to fix the place up again, if needed, and to find a new tenant.

Jawando’s specific claim that landlords will raise rents in order to evict non-paying tenants makes even less sense as that will not allow a landlord to evict their tenant any more quickly. If anything, the tenant will appear even more sympathetic to landlord-tenant court judges who will be very disinclined to evict anyone during the immediate aftermath of this crisis anyway. Remember that evictions are a lengthy legal process.

In short, if it doesn’t make any sense even from an amoral greed perspective, is this really happening on a widespread basis? It might be better to explore specific situations and address any bad actors on an individual basis. I wouldn’t think landlords would want to be publicly exposed as raising rents right now.

In an email response to my request for specific information, Jawando stated that his bill “supports” landlords and tenants alike:

Some landlords have thankfully already decided not to impose the burden of a rent increase on their tenants during this time . . . The intention of Bill 18-20 supports the action of these landlords while protecting other tenants whose landlords have not made a similar decision.

The idea that his bill “supports” the vast majority of landlords who have not increased rent is bizarre in light of the response of the chambers of commerce pushing back on this bill as a broad smear of how landlords have responded to the crisis.

Despite repeated requests, Jawando has not produced an iota of concrete evidence that this has occurred let alone a widespread problem that requires fast-track legislation:

Some of the tenants who have contacted our office are nervous about coming forward to the media as you might imagine, however when I introduced the bill, I did share several cases with increases ranging from 9% – 60%.  

Except big claims and major legislation require hard evidence that should be made public. At the very least, Jawando could have by now produced redacted letters if such notices of rent increases are being distributed widely in some buildings. Regardless, any documents he has are public as he received them in his capacity as a councilmember.

Jawando’s bill has already been through several iterations, first excluding then including then excluding again commercial properties from the bill. These changes further suggest that the facts regarding the problem it is intended to solve are not known. At the very least, they aren’t being made public. Right now, all we have are unsupported anecdotes from the bill sponsor.

If this is a widespread problem, Jawando’s bill may be an appropriate response. If not, the Council should move along to address may of the other pressing problems that the county will face during and after this crisis.

The Council’s unanimous effort to fund the production of cloth masks to make sure all county residents have access to them is a much better example of good use of their time. My applause to all councilmembers for supporting this effort. More please.

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