WASHINGTON -- Rent control is not the chief cause of building abandonment and the decline of a city's housing stock, a study released Friday said.
Instead, if there is a relationship between rent control and abandonment it is an inverse one, according to Peter Marcuse of Columbia University, the author of 'Rent Control and Abandonment: What the Figures Show.'
The highlights of Marcuse's study were made available as some 300 tenant activists from the National Tenants Union fanned out on Capitol Hill to lobby against proposed legislation that would cut off federal housing subsidies to cities that maintain rent control.
One of the main contentions of supporters of the proposed legislation is that rent control systems deplete rental housing stock and lead owners to abandon their buildings.
Marcuse's study, however, disputes that conclusion.
Drawing on Census Bureau and General Accounting Office figures, Marcuse argues that abandonment and declining housing stocks are the result of a complex process, including tenants' declining real income, a steep rise in the operating cost of housing, failure by financial institutions to invest in urban areas and the 'milking' of buildings by owners for maximum short term profit.
'Rent control is neither a necessary nor a sufficient explanation of abandonment,' Marcuse said. 'Abandonment takes place, and as severely, in cities without rent control as in cities with it.'
Marcuse said that a 1978 GAO study showed that of 113 cities saying they had abandonment problems, only six had rent control at the time and of the eight that said abandonment was a 'major' problem, only one had rent control.
In addition, Marcuse said a study of Manhattan showed the three districts with the least abandonment all had high proportions of rent controlled apartments while the three districs with the most abandonment had the lowest level of rent controlled apartments.
'The more rent controlled units, the less losses,' Marcuse said, ' the less controlled, the more loses.'
The anti-rent control proposal has been approved by the Senate Banking Committee but defeated in the House Banking, Finance and Urban Affairs Committee.
Its sponsors, Sen. Alfonse D'Amato, R-N.Y., and Rep. Chalmers Wylie, R-Ohio, hope to attach it as an amendment to a reconciliation housing bill later this year.
Although Housing and Urban Development officials, including Secretary Samuel Pierce, oppose the proposed legislation, National Tenant Union officials believe the administration is informally supporting the measure.
'If Congress passes this bill, they will have declared war on the nation's more than 60 million tenants,' said John Atlas, a spokesman for the NTU.