In the midst of the stormy sessions of Congress on price control a few months ago even the anti OPA forces, except for a few irreconcilable, rallied to the defense of the sacred cow of the American public: rent-control. But today, with the political picture of the House and Senate changed, more and more unofficial Washington reports making their insidious way into newspaper columns tell the story of coming action by Congress which will wreek or completely abolish this system. Whether it be the never-say-die lobbying of the real estate interests or the fact that the Republicans, now in the majority, see no need of keeping a pre-election pose, the continuance of our present rent-control system seems unlikely unless forceful publication is forthcoming in its defense.
The effectiveness of the work of the National Association of Real Estate Boards, the National Association of Home Builders and the National Home and Property Owners' Foundation may be shown to the home-hungry, inflation-ridden citizen after January 3. These and similar groups are pressing for at least a fifteen per cent rise in all rents. If the public remains as indifferent to their unpublicized machinations in Washington, complete decontrol in this field will not be far off.
A look at the rent situation after the abolition of controls in 1919 illustrates what may happen again. Rentals rose from 25 to 150 per cent in that one year. Within three years, they had gone up 312 per cent, due both to the lack of controls and the shortage of houses. In most ways, the country finds itself in a parallel situation today; indeed, in the housing shortage a problem exists which is now much more critical than after World War I. This condition alone makes the maintenance of rent-controls imperative, for even when prices of other commodities decline, rents will not follow in proportion because of the ten-year backlog of housing. The shortage will exist for some time, with the ensuing high prices and rentals for homes.
The removal of rent-controls and sale prices on new homes may offer the straw which will break the back of the nation's general economy, throwing us into an inflationary spiral more severe than has been experienced in this country before. But, even if it did not have that result, it would seriously impair, for one thing, the veterans' housing program which has taken months to get under way.
This issue, transcending political lines and prejudices, must not be allowed to go the way of other anti-inflation measures, by default. Not only should every effort be made on the part of an alerted citizenry to urge their Congressmen not to do away with this control, but state legislatures and officials should also be impressed by the necessity of passing state laws governing the question of rent-control. In this way, the activities of a few selfish men in our midst will be frustrated. And in this whole problem, the Republican party has the responsibility for which it has been asking American voters for fourteen years.