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Introduction: How would the “Reclaim Rent Control” proposals change the District’s rental housing landscape?

November 08, 2020
  • Yesim Sayin

Rising rents in the District of Columbia, along with increased pressure on rental housing from higher income renters, have led to a debate on whether to expand rent control provisions in the city. In July of 2020, the D.C. Council voted to retain the city’s rent control laws (expiring at the end of 2020) for another ten years without any changes. Since then, at least six legislative proposals have been introduced in the Council offering various modifications to the law. Five of the six bills make changes to different sections of the rent control laws, including means-testing tenants, or limiting how providers can increase rents when they make improvements to units or the entire building. The sixth proposal, which is based on the policy positions of the “Reclaim Rent Control” platform, offers sweeping changes including a potentially-significant expansion of the rent-controlled stock, stricter restrictions on how rents can be increased from year to year, and various limitations to the petition processes housing providers use to raise revenue for investments in their buildings.

This policy brief offers an analysis of, Bill 23-873, the Rent Stabilization Program Reform and Expansion Amendment Act of 2020.[1] We focus on this bill because it offers the most profound changes to the District’s rent control laws, while including many of elements of the other five bills the Council is considering.[2] We examine the potential impact of the bill on the size of the rent controlled stock, rents, building valuations and tax revenue. We also discuss the implications on the bill for the entire housing ecosystem and its future.

Part I of the brief provides a summary of the key provisions of the current rent control laws in D.C. Part II provides a comparison of B23-873 to the current law. Part III examines how the landscape of rent-controlled housing would change in the event of the implementation of the bill and during the fourteen-year period that would follow. Part IV examines rent growth under the provisions of the bill and the implications on building valuations and tax revenue. Part V discusses potential implications of an overly restrictive rent-control system on the overall health of the housing market and affordability. Part VI concludes with a discussion of policy options for the city.

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[1] B23-0873 was introduced by Councilmembers T. White, and Nadeau on July 27, 2020 and has been referred to the Committee on Housing and Neighborhood Revitalization on September 22, 2020. A hearing on the bill has been scheduled for November 5, 2020.

[2] A summary of the other five bills can be found in the Appendix. The D.C. Policy Center’s analysis of the other five bills can be found here.



Yesim Sayin

Executive Director
D.C. Policy Center

Yesim Sayin is the founding Executive Director of the D.C. Policy Center.

With over twenty years of public policy experience in the District of Columbia, Dr. Sayin is recognized by policymakers, advocates and the media as a source of reliable, balanced analyses on the District’s economy and demography.  Yesim’s research interests include economic and fiscal policy, urban economic development, housing, and education. She is especially focused on how COVID-19 pandemic is changing regional and interregional economic interdependencies and what this means for urban policy. Her work is frequently covered in the media, including the Washington Post, the Washington Business Journal, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, WAMU, and the Washington City Paper, among others.

Before joining the D.C. Policy Center, Dr. Sayin worked at the District of Columbia Office of the Chief Financial Officer leading the team that scored the fiscal impact of all legislation the District considered. She frequently testified on high profile legislation and worked closely with the executive and Council staff to ensure that policymakers fully understand the fiscal implications of their proposed legislation. Yesim also has worked in the private sector, and consulted with international organization on a large portfolio of public finance topics.

Yesim holds a Ph.D. in economics from George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, and a bachelor’s degree in Political Science and International Relations from Bogazici University, located in Istanbul, Turkey.