Montgomery County residents passionately expressed their viewpoints on two competing rent stabilization bills during two extensive public hearings that took place on Tuesday. The meetings, lasting several hours, allowed citizens to delve into the details of Bill 15-23 and Bill 16-23, commonly referred to as the “H.O.M.E. Act” bill.

Analyzing Bill 15-23: Balancing Rent Increases and Landlord Obligations

Bill 15-23 aimed to limit rent increases in the county to 8% in addition to the consumer price index. It also proposed allowing specific rental increases to finance capital improvements and required landlords to submit annual reports on rental rates. Conversely, Bill 16-23, sponsored by Montgomery County Councilmember Will Jawando, sought to prohibit rent increases exceeding 3%. Additionally, it aimed to establish an excise tax on vacant rental units and allocate certain tax revenues toward acquiring affordable housing, among other provisions.

Both bills incorporated exemptions for select buildings, acknowledging the diverse nature of rental properties in the county. Councilmember Jawando emphasized the urgency for action, stating, “It’s not sufficient to merely pass legislation; we need to enact measures that genuinely protect tenants and ensure landlords receive fair returns.” Supporters and opponents of both bills voiced their perspectives during the hearings held at the county council building on Tuesday afternoon. The first hearing commenced at 1:30 pm and extended for an hour and a half, while the second hearing began at 7 pm.

Unpacking Bill 16-23: The “H.O.M.E. Act” and its Implications for Rent Control

Lindsay Bouie, a Gaithersburg resident, testified that her family could likely manage the 8% rent increase recently imposed on their property. However, she expressed concern for the numerous low-income families residing in her apartment complex who might be unable to afford such substantial increases. Bouie emphasized the importance of addressing the potential mass displacement of vulnerable families, stating, “What about all the value we lose if we just look the other way while hundreds of low-income families quietly move away because they can’t afford the rent?”

Marie Ndip, another Montgomery County resident, shared her feelings of hopelessness, unable to cope with the four percent rent increase imposed on her home. She expressed the challenges faced in finding an affordable alternative within the county, stating, “Finding a new affordable home in Montgomery County has proven to be extremely difficult.”

Rent Control

However, concerns were also raised by individuals who believed that rent control and stabilization measures could have adverse effects on Montgomery County and its small landlords. Brian Anleu, representing the Apartment & Office Building Association, highlighted the historical evidence indicating negative impacts on housing supply due to rent regulations. Similarly, Lily Goldstein from the developer JGB Smith expressed concerns about potential limitations on investment caused by rent caps. Goldstein stated, “Housing providers will simply have to forgo routine maintenance and capital investments, leading to a potential disaster and undermining our shared goal of safe and affordable housing.”

Councilmember Jawando disputed these assertions, highlighting the provisions in both bills that incentivize new construction. He emphasized the ten-year exemption on new developments, stating, “You can charge whatever you want when you build it and then whatever you want, increase-wise, for ten years. That is not de-incentivizing new construction.” Jawando projected that voting on both bills would likely take place in June, providing additional time for further deliberation and consideration of the diverse perspectives expressed by Montgomery County residents.

Rental Assitance Program

In response to the pressing need for rental assistance, lawmakers took steps to address the issue by allocating an additional $2 million to the rental assistance program. However, this amount fell significantly short of the $175 million requested by the Maryland Emergency Rental Assistance Coalition, a collective of housing advocacy organizations. The scarcity of federal government pandemic relief funds further exacerbated the situation, leaving advocates and local officials grappling with the challenge of adequately supporting vulnerable individuals and families in need of housing aid. The shortfall in funding underscored the urgency for sustained and substantial financial resources to address the growing rental crisis in the county.