Rent Stabilization Has Ended: That’s Good News

Del. Jheanelle Wilkins lamented yesterday that Montgomery County has ended its 2022 0.4% cap on rent increases:

Today, May 15, marks the end of Montgomery County’s limitation (.4%) on rent increases. Unlike most areas across the country, MoCo residents have been able to avoid sky-rocketing rent increases. I fear for what’s next as this limit lifts.

Takoma Park has its own rent cap, which has risen from 2.6% last year to 7.3% this year, an increase that Del. Wilkins described as “pretty high!”

At the height of the pandemic, temporary controls on top of the freeze in evictions might have made sense except that there was no evidence that rents were going up. (Freezing evictions made sense as so many had their income temporarily disrupted, we wanted people to stay home, and how on earth were people supposed to move?)

Since then, Montgomery County’s cap has had the effect of reducing rents in real terms because the cap was set far below the current inflation rate. While the cap was set at 0.4% starting in February 2022 (and 1.4% prior to that), inflation has been running at 7.3% in the D.C. metro area. Even if a landlord raised rent by the full 0.4%, they saw a 6.4% decline in real income.

Nevertheless, Del. Wilkins would like rent stabilization made permanent:

Rent stabilization should be the standard everywhere. MoCo’s successful rent limit experiment demonstrates that stabilization works! While rent has risen all around us, MoCo residents have had this strong protection.

Many oppose rent control on liberty and freedom grounds. After all, rent control is the government forcing people to sell the right to use their property at arbitrarily low prices to whoever happens to occupy it. Though this weakening of property rights is promoted as a transfer from the wealthy to the poor, there is no guarantee the rent-controlled units are occupied by the poor or that their landlords are necessarily rich.

Of course, many renters have salaries that are not keeping up with inflation. But that’s not the landlord’s problem. Banks don’t cut landlords or other mortgage holders a break when their income isn’t enough to pay the mortgage. Landlords aren’t automatically granted an extra big rent increase when their tenant gets a major salary bump.

If we maintained the cap for additional years, as Del. Wilkins supports, the gap between what are now effectively rent stabilized and market rate units would only grow. The more we require landlords to rent at artificially low rates and limit earnings potential, the less incentive there is to build housing. Even if laws exempt new housing, developers are understandably reluctant to build in areas that are willing to adopt controls on existing housing. The same controls could be extended to their property.

The longer rent control or stabilization stays in place, the more it distorts markets. People don’t want to leave rent-controlled apartments because they are unusually cheap. They become an even better deal as the decline of new building results in even higher housing prices.

The combined attack on property rights and on new housing eventually led both Massachusetts and New York—not exactly known as right-wing hotbeds—to eliminate or to drastically curtail rent stabilization and control. Since the value of rental buildings is heavily tied to income generated by the rent, avoiding rent control also prevents denuding the tax base–important to remember if you want the county to keep up the schools or to pay for expensive social programs.

Del. Wilkins is right that prices may swing up precisely because they have been kept artificially low. We already have measures in place designed to assure that new projects provide social benefits, such as MPDUs, at financial cost to developers. Let’s avoid shrinking the housing supply through long-term price controls.


Brooks Out, Albornoz In

The Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA) has revoked their endorsement of Brandy Brooks and instead endorsed Council President Gabe Albornoz.

The teachers overlooked Tom Hucker, who is attempting to jump from District 5 to an at-large seat after pulling back from a bid for county executive. Some may see this as a bit of a snub since Hucker had been supportive and close to labor in the past.

In their choice, MCEA went with a safe bet for re-election and also overlooked one fresh candidate, Scott Goldberg. (Note: this is a correction. I mistakenly wrote Laurie-Anne Sayles was also overlooked but she had been endorsed by MCEA previously.)

Their decision is the latest in a line of organizations, such as CASA and DSA, that have pulled their endorsements from Brooks in the wake of a former staffer’s accusation of sexual harassment. Brooks has started participating in forums again but still has not spoken directly on the issue.


Kelly Schulz and the Republicans Have a Major Roe Problem

The likely imminent reversal of Roe v. Wade deeply wounds any chances that the Republicans have of holding the governor’s mansion this November in strongly pro-choice Maryland.

Former Delegate and Secretary of Commerce Kelly Schultz, is running as a Hogan Republican and is seen as the more viable of the two major Republican candidates. She issued a statement designed to counter fears over abortion rights.

Thirty years ago, Marylanders voted to make abortion legal in Maryland, and any decision forthcoming on Roe v. Wade will not change that. The continued politicization of the Supreme Court is shameful and those fearmongering over Maryland abortion rights are only adding to that. While Kelly Schulz is personally pro-life, as governor, nothing will change with respect to current Maryland law on the issue.

But the statement doesn’t appear on her website or twitter feed.  It’s almost like she’s trying to hide it from Republican primary voters. Her statement doesn’t mention that she was endorsed by Maryland Right to Life as a candidate for the House of Delegates.

Democrats are ready to pounce. The Democratic Governors Association has already pointed out that she sponsored a constitutional amendment to ban abortion with no exceptions and that she has previously touted her “100% solid” pro-life record.

Maryland’s governor remains the most powerful in the nation. Would Schulz use these extensive powers in ways that curtail abortion access, particularly for poor women? Is her statement conditional on the election of enough numbers of Democrats to the General Assembly to override gubernatorial vetoes, as is currently the case?

Schulz’s major opponent, far-right loony Del. Dan Cox who embraces Trump’s election conspiracy theories, has also voted against abortion rights bills in the General Assembly.


Chevy Chase Library Redevelopment. If It’s a Good Idea, No Need to Mislead.

In a recent email appeal on the proposed Chevy Chase Library redevelopment, the Coalition for Smarter Growth (CSG) wrote:

This is an opportunity to model the smart growth future of Montgomery County by mixing affordable housing and a public facility in one location near transit, services, amenities, and jobs. . . . With your support, we can win more housing and more affordable housing in a community that has been kept out of reach for too many for too long.

The CSG email gave the strong impression that this is a unique affordable housing opportunity. But there is currently no guarantee that the project on this site would consist of more than the minimum required moderately priced dwelling units (MPDUs) . Most units would be market rate housing, which in this area likely means million-dollar condos or high-end rentals. In other words, you could apply this same language to Lionsgate in Bethesda or any development.

The sign-on letter to the county exaggerates the case even more:

We believe this is an opportunity to model the future of Montgomery County by mixing housing and a public facility in one location near transit, services, amenities, and jobs. This project is key to meeting the county’s goals to achieve racial equity and social justice, and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transportation.

This is an area that was kept out of reach for people of color through redlining, restrictive covenants, and other public and private policies. The government must take intentional steps to reverse this history. . . . Montgomery County needs more projects like this to break down its racial and socioeconomic east-west divide and achieve housing justice.

Language like this is almost included routinely in progressive advocacy documents. In many ways, it is more a statement of faith, like reciting the catechism, than anything else. At the same time, million-dollar condos or pricey rentals in this one project just aren’t the “key” to “racial equity and social justice” or reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It’s a lot for one modest building project to carry. Even the MPDUs are moderate, not low-income, housing.

The funny thing is that, on balance, I think this project is probably a good idea. Notwithstanding its exclusion from the recently adopted Master Plan, it is near the Purple Line stop and other areas around it that are being built up. Hundreds of units are currently being delivered right up the avenue at Chevy Chase Lake, and hundreds more are proposed. But it’s not necessary to so massively oversell this as a social justice, affordable housing project to make that case.

Making the Project Work

The site currently consists of a large area of surface parking. Is there a better use for that land? Probably yes. Must parking still be a consideration? Yes. To make the project truly successful, the redeveloped library will need onsite parking.

CSG opposes parking but most people in the surrounding suburban neighborhoods cannot walk to this or any other library. You can’t rebuild it and make it impossible for most of the community to access it. Many elderly and disabled patrons who can no longer park next to the redeveloped Silver Spring Library now use this library, and it’d be a shame to displace them again. The parking lots across the street in Silver Spring are too far for those with serious mobility issues.

Getting Our Money’s Worth

Finally, the county needs to come to the table with a more knowledgeable approach so it can leverage its assets and advocate properly for its citizens. Councilmember Will Jawando has repeatedly made this excellent point. We rely far too much on analyses produced by the developer in our own assessments:

The voting on tax abatements for projects at Metro stations revealed this all too clearly. At the committee level, Jawando’s proposal to require deeper levels of affordability was voted down flat as economically unfeasible by Councilmembers Hans Riemer and Andrew Friedson. When voted on at the full council, the same amendment was adopted unanimously. As if “miraculously”, the previously impossible became possible.

If we are better informed, we can negotiate hard and get better value out of these deals, including a higher share of affordable housing. It’s not just the right thing to do. The government neglects its fiduciary responsibility if it doesn’t get maximal value for people of the county when negotiating these projects.


The redevelopment of Chevy Chase Library with housing is potentially a very good project and the county should work to make sure that we, the citizens of Montgomery County, get the most public value. As the idea moves forward, it should continue to pursue a vision that serves the whole community, and adds more affordable units.

There’s no need for CSG to engage in over-the-top hype as the county moves forward with exploring what was, after all, the county government’s own idea. This redevelopment project may well prove worthwhile even if it doesn’t solve all social and racial inequities, and stop climate change.


Waldstreicher Aide Running in Chevy Chase View

Ardy Kamali, Sen. Jeff Waldstreicher’s legislative aide has now filed to run for the Chevy Chase View town council after failing in his effort to file for delegate at the last minute after Del. Al Carr withdrew from the race. Three candidates are running for the two town council seats. Besides Kamali, Thomas George and incumbent Paula Fudge are seeking election.

Kamali still hasn’t explained how he and another Waldstreicher supporter just happened to learn that Carr had dropped out to file for county council. Hard to imagine that Kamali decided at the last minute to challenge Waldstreicher’s slate. Waldstreicher has not responded to a request for Kamali’s contact information.