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College Park Extends—But Suspends—Rent Stabilization

The council voted to keep the ordinance on the books for another year while delaying enforcement to seek common ground with landlords.

The city council voted Tuesday night to extend College Park's rent stabilization ordinance through 2013 while simultaneously suspending its enforcement, effectively lifting the law for one year as councilmembers work to address opponents' concerns.

First passed in 2005, the ordinance aims to ensure an adequate supply of affordable housing in College Park by capping residential rents. (The ceiling affects one- and two-family homes but not large apartment buildings.)

Critics—led by the city's landlords—charge that the restrictions are overly burdensome for property owners and unfairly limit the housing stock available to students. The intense debate surrounding the measure drew dozens of supporters and opponents to a public hearing on Monday.

At Tuesday's meeting, Councilmember Stephanie Stullich moved to adopt an updated ordinance, including several small changes and a five-year extension beyond the law's September expiration date.

But Councilmember Patrick Wojahn introduced an amendment to limit the extension to just one year—through September 2013—saying he hoped to continue discussions with landlords about alternative approaches to rent control.

"It basically will require the city council to come back after a year to review our progress, where we're at," Wojahn said.

The change, paired with a separate measure to suspend enforcement of the law for a year, would be a demonstration to landlords that the city was willing to work with them, Wojahn said.

"I'm not saying that they're necessarily going to replace rent stabilization, and that's why I think it's important that we keep the ordinance in place," he added.

Stullich, who voted against the measure, said she was "leery" of the shorter extension.

"I think if we go down this road, that it's very important to—at the outset—think about what kinds of metrics we are going to use to judge whether this has been successful, and not just say after a year, 'We tried, we worked hard, we had lots of meetings, we wrote some nice words.' That's not enough," Stullich said.

Other councilmembers voiced support for the aims of rent stabilization but agreed that the shorter extension was appropriate.

"I did struggle with it, but I think this will be the best thing to for us to bring everyone to the table—for everyone to have discussions [and] open dialogue," Councilmember Denise Mitchell said. 

The amendment eventually passed by a 6-2 vote, with Councilmember Marcus Afzali joining Stullich in opposition. The amended ordinance then cleared by a 7-1 margin, with Councilmember Robert Catlin as the lone dissenting voice.

Following that vote, Wojahn introduced his resolution to suspend enforcement for a year, citing declining homeownership rates, still-rising rents, and the higher rate of code violations in rent-stabilized units.

The moratorium is conditioned on a commitment by the Prince George's Property Owners Association to "engage in various strategies that produce measurable improvements in the resolution of the public safety and health issues that [the ordinance] was enacted to address."

The council can opt to resume enforcement at an earlier time if it the PGPOA does not follow through on that pledge.

After some discussion, Wojahn's motion passed 8-0.

"I am admittedly somewhat skeptical about this alternative, but at the same time, I think it's essential to give it our best shot," Stullich said, elaborating on her vote.

The extension and the suspension both take effect Sept. 1.

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