As Washington DC’s 2018 mayoral election takes shape, one of the early battleground issues will be housing, particularly low-income housing. It’s a perennial favorite in every major Democratic-controlled city and the District is no exception. To date, the salvos launched by the field of candidates makes it clear the old narrative will still hold – tenants are always victims, and landlords are always guilty. The reality, often times, is very different.
When liberals seek to discredit someone they often label them with a derogatory term. In the case of rental property, no label carries more weight than the term “slumlord.” Liberals love to toss it around, because like being called a racist, it can destroy reputations, livelihoods and even families. There are, no doubt, horrible landlords out there. But what gets ignored is the fact that there are some really irresponsible, horrible tenants out there too. In my life, I’ve witnessed this firsthand.
When I lived in Baltimore I rented a basement apartment in an old row house. One of my building-mates was, shall we say, not a nice individual. He was also the person I suspect of ruining several of my bathroom rugs. How? Thanks to his penchant for using t-shirts as toilet paper, he continually overflowed every commode in the building.
When I was roofing in Detroit in college a large part of what we did was find roof leaks and fix them. Part of locating a leak is seeing where it’s coming in, which means going into apartments. I can assure you, I set foot in many apartments that were filthy, totally unkempt and generally had at least one recently produced hole in the wall.
My point is, like everyone else, there are good and bad tenants. Yet tenants, in the field of politics, receive a pass from the media and politicians no matter where they fall on that spectrum. It’s easy to demonize the haves over the have-nots; it’s one of the media’s favorite narratives. It’s also smart politics because there will always be more people with less. Which brings me back to the current political situation in Washington, DC.
Today, we have the current Mayor of Washington, Muriel Bowser, planning to run for reelection in 2018, and the current Attorney General, Karl Racine, considering an effort to topple Bowser in the Democratic primary. In DC, the Democratic primary is essentially the general election. Since both are ultra liberal Democrats, with very little actual policy disagreement, in order to differentiate themselves, they have both sought the mantel of being the most “concerned” with affordable housing and eradicating homelessness in the District.
But defeating homelessness -- and suspending the laws of economics in DC, where rental prices are through the roof thanks to the existence of the federal government – are hard, if not impossible tasks. Hence, both candidates have decided that in order to demonstrate they care about these persistent issues, they have both decided to try and outdo each other by attacking the owners of the properties and, yes, calling them slumlords.
Perhaps the most attacked of the property owners in Washington, is a company called Sanford Capital, that provides more low-income housing than any other single landlord in the District. The Mayor attacked them in her State of the District address. Not to be outdone, the Attorney General is suing Sanford Capital using every legal trick in the book to try and inflict pain on the landlord, while at the same time generate positive headlines for himself. Combined, their attacks on Sanford Capital – have according to media reports – blocked the company from being able to sell their properties. How does that make sense? If either Bowser or Racine wanted to actually help the people living in Sanford Capital’s properties, wouldn’t they be encouraging a sale? Or, would they rather keep Sanford Capital around as a convenient punching bag?
What neither politician is willing to acknowledge is that many of the tenants living in Sanford Capital properties are living rent-free or paying less than what they would be paying if Sanford Capital sold the property to another owner that would, you know, actually like to make a profit on their investment.
Finally, what liberals also must accept, is that when you allow people to live rent free, or in subsidized housing, that many residents will treat them as such, and do things like flush t-shirts down their toilets. When that happened to me, I didn’t blame the landlord. I blamed the person flushing the t-shirts. Yet, heaven forbid a politician actually scolds the noble tenant and not the “slumlord.” That would be, you know, honest, which is something that all politicians – both Democrats and Republicans – struggle with.