Baltimore History: Rent Control 1979 —CD

Baltimore History: Rent Control 1979 —CD

In November 6, 1979 Baltimore citizens approved 72,000 to 67,000 a charter amendment to establish rent control in the city. Baltimore was then the eight largest city in the United States.
Two weeks later, a Maryland judge ruled as unconstitutional both the rent control law and the right to institute it by referendum. June 3, 1980, the Maryland State Supreme Court of Appeals by a 6-1 vote upheld the lower court decision. Though rent control was thrown out for good, the popular mobilization for Question K was a significant effort.

The newspapers and television stations of Baltimore as well as 15 of the 18 members of City Council came out against rent control. The San Francisco consulting firm, which ran the anti-rent control campaign, spent close to $500,000, while the Baltimore Rent Control Campaign (BRCC) spent less than $10,000.

The Baltimore Rent Control Campaign organized about 50 church, community, and labor organizations in a multi-racial coalition. Even though Baltimore Welfare Rights Organization and Youth Against War and Fascism split from the BRCC to form a separate People's Campaign for Rent Control, the combined efforts collected 35,000 signatures to get Question K on the ballot. The BRCC had 75 key volunteers, 300 canvassers, and 2,000 people at the polls on election day.

Question K was a proposed law for “moderate rent controls” and the establishment of a tenant-landlord commission. “Moderate” rent control permits rent increases if justified by rising costs, such as energy, or improved maintenance, while the landlord is also in compliance with housing codes.

The Baltimore Rent Control Campaign was part of a nation-wide movement to check increasing rental costs. More than 100 hundred municipalities enacted some form of rent control during the 1970s. Real estate interests bitterly fought these and later campaigns. Though defeated in Baltimore, the Rent Control Campaign gave birth to a number of groups working on housing and related issues, groups like the Peoples Homesteading Project, Greater Baltimore Shelter Network, Women's Housing Coalition, Low-Income Housing Coalition, and Baltimore Jobs in Energy Project.

Sources: “A Real Look at Rent Control.” Dollars & Sense, January, 1986. John Gilderbloom et al. Rent Control: A Source Book. 1981. Pages 187-96 focus on Baltimore.
David Harvey. “Rent Control and a Fair Return.” Baltimore Sun, 9/20/79.
Shelterforce: the Journal of Affordable Housing Strategies. Many articles on rent control appear in 1970s-1980s.