Council President Brencis Smith has scheduled a Special Work Session on Affordable Housing for
Wednesday, November 9, 2022, 6:00 p.m.
Council Chambers, Laurel Municipal Center, 8103 Sandy Spring Road, Laurel.
For additional information please contact the Clerk at [email protected].
Kimberley Rau, MMC
Clerk to the Council
MAYOR AND CITY COUNICL OF LAUREL, MARYLAND
SPECIAL WORK SESSION
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 9, 2022, 6:00 P.M.
LAUREL MUNICIPAL CENTER
The meeting convened in the Council Chamber at the Laurel Municipal Center, 8103 Sandy Spring Road Laurel, Maryland 20707, at approximately 6:00 pm with Council President Brencis D. Smith presiding. Also present were: Councilman James Kole, Councilman Carl DeWalt, Councilman Martin Mitchell, Councilman Keith R. Sydnor, Craig A. Moe, Mayor. There were approximately twenty-five (25) members of the public in attendance.
The following staff were in attendance: Christian L Pulley, CPM, City Administrator, Joanne Barr, Deputy City Administrator, Sara A. Green, CMC, Chief of Staff, Robert Love, Director, Department of Economic and Community Development, Chief Russell Hamill, Laurel Police Department, S. Michele Saylor, Director, Department of Budget and Personnel Services, Danny Selby, Director, Department of the Fire Marshal and Permit Services Larry Taub, City Solicitor.
President Smith said that the Councilmembers would start with reviewing a binder of information regarding affordable housing that was prepared by the Administration. A copy of the binder information is attached hereto and labeled Attachment “A”.
The first suggestion was: A landlord may increase rent at the end of the lease agreement. When dealing with a month-to-month tenant, a landlord may increase rent at any time so long as the appropriate notice is provided, and the allowance must be equal to the annual increase in the Consumer Price index for the Washington/Baltimore region.
A landlord is required to provide a 60-Day Notice before rent may be increased. The tenant has 15 days to terminate the tenancy or agree to the proposed rent increase.
President Smith asked what the Council thought about the first item.
- Councilman Mitchell- 90-day notice.
- Councilmember DeWalt- 60 days.
- Councilman Kole- 60-day notice unless the landlord was proposing a significant increase like 20% then should require 90 days’ notice.
- Councilman Sydnor- 60-day notice.
Mayor Moe clarified that the consensus of the Council was 60 days’ notice and remove the 15-day termination notice to be clear. President Smith agreed.
The next portion of the suggestions for discussion was: Rent shall only be increased once during a 12-month period regardless of the term of lease agreement. A rent increase shall only be imposed when it is stated in the lease agreement.
Councilman Sydnor said he was not comfortable deciding on a rent increase percentage limit at the time because he wanted to hear from the landlords first. Councilmember Sydnor said he appreciated CASA and what they were trying to do but felt that landlords had a right to be heard as well before the Council decided on legislation. Councilman Sydnor said that he would continue to do a lot of research and reading on the matter as well.
Councilman Kole agreed with Councilman Sydnor and thought there was something missing from the percentage, concerned that there were no proposed exemptions and wanted to hear from all parties before deciding.
Councilman Mitchell said that he understood the Administrations suggestions regarding a 4% cap on rent increase but thought that 3% was the best level for a rent cap. He also said that the Council had heard from the landlords because organizations like the Apartment and Office Building Association (AOBA) had spoken to the Council, and they did not agree with rent stabilization. Councilman Mitchell said that they could speak to the landlords over and over and their position wouldn’t change. He said that while he was mindful of the business and property owner aspects of the matter, he thought the Council should move forward on getting something done.
President Smith said that he was not in favor of the 4% increase on rents and wanted the Council to get to a consensus but that it did not seem that they agreed. President Smith hoped that after hearing from the landlords, they would. President Smith said that he was leaning more toward 4% and 75% of the CPI but also wanted to hear from landlords before committing to a percentage.
Councilmember DeWalt said that the use of a percentage as a limit was easy to understand and for people to calculate, but that the CPI was not needed, that most people didn’t know what the CPI was and that it complicated things. He said that none of the landlords had attended any of the meetings so far and that they would never agree on a limit on the percentage that they could raise the rent and that the Council should move forward. He went on to say that what he and Councilman Mitchell were trying to do would not apply to fair landlords who don’t try to raise the rent by large amounts.
President Smith thought a Committee should be responsible for setting the percentage.
Councilman Mitchell said that he had talked to some smaller landlords, and they were okay with a percentage because most of their increases had been modest and the reason he proposed 3% was he based it on legislation St. Paul, Minnesota passed and had a study that showed that the average rent increase did not exceed 3%. Councilman Mitchell said that he was concerned about residents from Laurel being displaced and that the issue called for legislative action.
Mayor Craig A. Moe stated that some of the research of other states showed that they were using a percentage of Area Median Income (AMI) and that he would do more research on that. Mayor Moe wanted to make it clear that the information that was put together and being reviewed by the Council was not the Administrations “recommendations” nor were the items necessarily what he or staff agreed with, but it was information that he had put together to get the conversation started and that there were also tax credits and other things the Council could consider. Mayor Moe thought it was important to hear all sides of the issue and that he didn’t think that it was a good idea to rush anything.
Councilman Mitchell disagreed, saying there was a rush to get something done and that right after Westgate happened, they took several months waiting on the suggestions, and something needed to be done. Mayor Moe clarified that Westgate Apartments were not located within the City limits of Laurel and thought it was crucial to note that there was no legislation and to constantly tell the general public that there was, was false.
President Smith said that it was clear that there was not a consensus and that if anyone had suggestions or other ideas to let the Administration know. Councilman Sydnor noted that another option to consider was a housing voucher program and that everything was on the table.
Councilman Mitchell noted that the Federal Governments Section 8 program was backlogged, and that people died waiting for housing vouchers.
President Smith said the next item in the information for review was “Affordable Housing Preservation Fund”.
Councilman DeWalt was good with such a fund, but thought that if the City passed a sensible rent stabilization bill most of the items could be eliminated and read information from LARS regarding the number of households and amount of money that LARS had spent assisting families with back rent/mortgage payments and deposits and 1st months’ rent during the past year. Councilmember DeWalt said that a sensible rent stabilization bill would help most of the people and would stop predatory landlords and the larger corporations from increasing rent by significant percentages.
Councilman Kole noted that there was a lot of information in the housing preservation fund and that maybe the City should look at increasing the percentage of units that were already required by the City’s existing affordable housing law. He said that it was a broad subject and that more information and discussion was needed on it.
Councilman Sydnor was okay with the fund.
Councilman Mitchell said that if the AMI was based on the metro area, it should be done by zip code and then he would like to see “deeply affordable” housing like 15-20% of the AMI. He agreed with the idea of private/public partnerships especially if it had oversight but would like to continue to review it. Rent stabilization was the most pressing policy.
President Smith was in agreeance with the Council about the Affordable Housing Preservation Fund and looking further into it and that maybe after meeting with the landlords the Council would come to more of a consensus on the percentage.
The next item was the “Landlord-Tenant Affairs Commission”.
Councilman DeWalt agreed with some type of a commission as long as the landlord members included the smaller rental properties and if the City had the authority to have such a commission to decide such disputes instead of having to go to court in Upper Marlboro.
Councilman Kole was fine with a commission but was concerned about fulfilling and maintaining the membership requirement.
Councilman Sydnor said that the commission might be able to offer suggestions and possibly do conflict resolution, but that legal decisions and determinations on evictions etc. should be made by the court.
Councilman Mitchell agreed with the general premise of the commission and that he’d like to see at least one member be a Councilmember selected by the Council President because his concern would be that the Mayor would appoint all of the members of the commission.
President Smith noted that he was in favor of the commission and that the commission should also be able to determine the percentage of increases since it would have landlords, tenants, local attorneys on it.
Next, the Council reviewed the section regarding “Rental Agreements”.
- President Smith noted that agreements should be required to be in writing.
- Councilman DeWalt agreed.
- Councilman Kole said that he agreed and could not believe the State didn’t already require written agreements and that everyone should write to their Delegates and Senators to also work on requiring them at the State level.
- Councilman Sydnor was okay with the item.
- Councilman Mitchell agreed with requiring written agreements and that they should also be required even for month-to-month leases.
The next item for review was “Tenant Grace Periods”.
- President Smith said it should be least five (5) days.
- Councilman DeWalt agreed.
- Councilman Kole wanted to see longer than five (5) days, noting that the grace period for his mortgage was fifteen (15) days and that it wasn’t always easy for people to pay on a set day of the month depending on how they were paid, days that holidays fall on, etc.
- President Smith asked if Councilman Kole would be okay with a ten (10) day grace period. Councilman Kole said he was fine with that but also thought that it shouldn’t be limited to two (2) times per year, that it should be every month.
- Councilman Sydnor said that he was fine with it either way.
- Councilman Mitchell was okay with a twelve (12) or fifteen (15) day grace period.
President Smith noted that the item would move forward because there was a consensus and that there would be more discussion in the future regarding how many times they would be allowed. Councilman DeWalt thought that something should be added so if someone mailed their payment in and were able to prove that it was received late because of the poor mail service and no fault of their own that the person shouldn’t be penalized for it.
Next, the Council reviewed the section “Tax Credits for Affordable Housing Units”. Mayor Moe clarified that Council had already passed legislation regarding tax credits and that staff was moving forward with targeted areas.
Councilman DeWalt was good with the item.
- Councilman Kole agreed and said it looked like the legislation passed in 2021 just needed some tweaks.
- Councilman Sydnor was good with the item.
- Councilman Mitchell agreed and that he would like to see alternative housing options in some of the new developments. He said he would like to see something like a tiny home community.
- President Smith said that he was also in favor of tax credits and would move the item forward.
Councilman DeWalt spoke about the language submitted regarding anti homelessness and displacement stating that he strongly believed in the rental registry because it helped with transparency. One of the landlords had an idea that questions could be added to the existing rental license renewal which was done by the Department of the Fire Marshal and Permits Services. The registry would be good for everyone to see all of the information and rents. He thought the City should include “Just Cause Evictions” in a bill that would prevent landlords from making up reasons to evict someone just so that they could get them out and raise the rent. Councilman DeWalt said that he understood that Westgate Apartments wasn’t in the City limits but that because of the parking situation at the property, residents parked on Montrose Avenue that is in the City and crossed a six-lane highway with only one marked crosswalk and that the parking situation on Montrose Avenue had gotten so bad that property owners had started to put cones out on the street so that people couldn’t park in front of their houses. Councilman DeWalt also said that he wanted to see the verbiage in our ordinance that says “at the sole discretion of the Mayor” eliminated because when they get the proposal and can formulate it, it needs to be with full transparency so that the Council can make sure there are no loopholes.
Councilman Kole said that regarding the matter of a rental registry, he thought that the City already had one that Code Enforcement maintained such as when property owners applied for or renewed a rental license. Mayor Moe said that the City did have a rental license program that required the property owner to provide all contact information, phone numbers, email addresses and includes the number and type of units. He said that what Councilman DeWalt mentioned about the rental rates was available on various websites like Rent.com, Zillow, etc. Councilman Kole was fine with discussing possibly adding more to what the City already did.
Councilman Sydnor didn’t think the City needed a separate rental registry.
Councilman Mitchell said that vacancy/just cause evictions needed to be addressed in a rent stabilization bill and that having all of the information on rentals on one rental registry was good for all involved because when the rental information was requested from the City it took days to compile.
“Just Cause Evictions” was brought up next.
- President Smith said he was in favor of just cause evictions.
- Councilman DeWalt explained that just cause evictions meant that property owners had to have specific reasons and meet certain criteria before they could evict a tenant and that he was in favor of it.
- Councilman Kole was in favor of eviction protections.
- Councilman Sydnor needed to study the matter more.
- Councilman Mitchell said that he was in favor of just cause evictions and vacancy controls.
President Smith noted that the next item was “Vacancy Controls”.
Councilman DeWalt said he thought Just Cause Evictions and Vacancy Controls should be grouped together and that Vacancy Controls should have been illegal anyway.
. Councilman Kole said he would pass on it.
Councilman Sydnor thought it seemed very similar to Just Cause Evictions but that he would research it more and hadn’t made a decision.
Councilman Mitchell was in favor.
President Smith said he wasn’t 100% in favor of Vacancy Controls and wasn’t ready to take a position. Mayor Moe asked Councilman DeWalt or Mitchell to get him information on or clarify how they got information in their proposal that said that “Persons on fixed incomes who reside in the County that residents constitute more than 1/3 of the residents in Laurel and that resident tenants suffer great and serious… and forced to move from their homes….”, how did they get there to that number, did that mean 1/3 of the County or 1/3 of the City and would that mean that 2/3 then were under Councilman Dernoga’s district in District One? Councilman Mitchell said that he was going by the three zip codes when he calculated the 1/3 and that it meant that 1/3 of the residents in Laurel are renting their homes. Mayor Moe asked him to provide the information he used to get that number because Mayor Moe had used Census numbers and a few different sets of data and couldn’t get the same figure.
Councilman DeWalt said that everyone was there because of one landlord in the City and that there were good landlords and that all of their proposals were because they wanted to be extra cautious and would not affect most good landlords because they wouldn’t try to increase residents’ rents by exorbitant amounts and give a few days’ notice.
Councilman Mitchell thought that rent stabilization legislation was an immediate need to help people.
President Smith said that the City would continue to work on the issue and reminded everyone that the City had made significant contributions to Laurel Advocacy and Referral Services (LARS) and to CASA to assist Laurel residents with rent.
Mayor Moe asked the Council to provide memorandums to his Office with any suggestions or information and that he and staff would work on edits on the matters discussed. Mayor Moe said that if anyone was concerned about the Mayor having all the power or thinking that he was going to do something, that wasn’t the case and that everything would go back to the Council to read.
Mayor Moe hoped that CASA would follow through and go to State and County representatives to push them to pass comprehensive legislation to make a level playing field for all communities because the issue of affordable housing was much larger than just the City of Laurel. Mayor Moe noted that he and the Council President had already sent a letter to the 21st Delegation requesting that the State work on legislation and that he would also be writing a letter to Prince George’s County Councilman Tom Dernoga’s office requesting that the County do the same. He also noted that the City did not have a housing code and that one might have to be written and that would not be an easy task. Mayor Moe thanked the public for attending the meeting.
There being no further business, the meeting adjourned at approximately 7:45 pm.
Approved: Sara A. Green, CMC City Clerk Date: January 23, 2023