GRANOLAPARK • BY GILBERT
If venting is good for the soul, Takoma Park’s is in great shape.
There’s been a lot of venting this election. Mayoral candidate Warren Holmes opened the valve with his protest candidacy, and he’s attracted a lot of residents in need of blowing off steam as well.
He represents two population segments: long-time middle-income residents and landlords. It’s a not-always-consistent combination of interests. On one hand he deplores the changes made by well-heeled young newcomers to his old, familiar neighborhoods. On the other hand he wants the city to pull back its rent control laws and taxes.
According to Holmes, landlords can’t afford to fix up their properties because rent control keeps their profits so slim. If they could maintain their buildings better their values would rise
Mayoral candidates Warren Holmes and Councilmember Kate Stewart’s first encounter: The Oct. 7 WACO forum. Covered in the Voice here.
City taxes are a percentage of real-estate value. So, raising the value, he says, would lower homeowner’s property taxes because landlords would be paying a much bigger share of the total.
Um, maybe. Seems like it would also increase property values and home prices – bringing in even wealthier new folks.
Still, what homeowners wouldn’t like their city taxes reduced? As Holmes has described in detail, Takoma Park city taxes do significantly increase the monthly cost of living here, a fact of life most councilmembers will not squarely address – especially when they are adding “just one more” boutique city service or giving city staff a little raise.
And that’s Holmes’ appeal, he awakens residents’ gripes against the city. These are folks who may love the city most of the time, but sometimes get caught on its hard edges: a tree ordinance violation, an unwanted sidewalk, or that rising city tax bill.
The city creates affordable housing on the cheap. As Holmes likes to point out to uncomfortable liberals, the city doesn’t spend one dollar on it.
There is no means-testing of tenants, for instance. That would take a lot of expensive paperwork and staff-time – and resident’s tax money. And though the city requires landlords to keep rents low, it has no funds to help them maintain their properties. But the city will slap a fine them if they don’t keep up to housing code or they violate a rent control rule.
The Oct. 20 CHEER/tenants association candidates forum.
Holme’s discontent echoes discontent coming at the city from the other side – the patronized but long-neglected minority and low-income populations.
You know – the “diversity” the city is so proud of. “Diversity” is what white home-owning liberals boast they moved here for, yet the population that makes the city diverse is mostly found in high-rise neighborhoods where the home-owners don’t go.
To it’s credit, the current city council has been pushing, in a random sort of way, to get The Diversity more engaged with the city. The council instituted same-day voter registration, early voting, putting polling places in low-turnout wards and other reforms.
Thanks to CHEER, there was a series of forums in high-rise rental-apartment buildings – where The Diversity lives and could bring up issues that concern them – like rent control.
Many tenants were interested in Holmes’ objections to rent control’s effects on landlords. They want to live in well-mainted buildings. They also were shocked by the amount homeowners pay in taxes. Some of them dream of buying a home in Takoma Park. When Holmes enumerated the monthly cost of mortgage, insurance and city taxes for an average Takoma Park house, they were appalled.
As this 2015 campaign progressed, there was a rhetorical slide to the middle on rent control. Even the non-mayoral candidates, who have been listening to the mayoral back-and-forth, slid that way.
The Voice Oct. 21 Election Forum.
Holmes stopped slamming rent control as hard as he had at the beginning, and Kate Steward, who first stood staunchly for rent control, started saying that “affordable housing” was necessary. Jarrett Smith, running unopposed for Ward 4, also used the term “affordable housing” and not “rent stabilization” at the Voice election forum.
In Takoma Park, the term “affordable housing” is code. It means reforming rent control, i.e. rent stabilization. “Affordable housing” is what the county does – with means-testing, bureaucratic oversight and tax-payer funding.
Past attempts at rent control reform have been like a snake-handling session.
We’ll see whether rent control/affordable housing remains an issue after the election. Or whether the city establishment slams the door shut and tells the discontented “you’re not the REAL Takoma Park!” Which is how it’s dealt with it up until now.
But, can it do that now they’ve built a bridge to The Diverse? What happens if they come to the city and say “What the hell are you doing to us with this rent control? We want to live in buildings that aren’t falling down around our ears!”
How odd that engaging tenants in city politics could lead there.
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