The Connecticut legislature introduced H.B. 6588 in January to cap annual rent increases at 4% and ban no-cause evictions, based on efforts by a grassroots organization called Cap the Rent Connecticut. Cap the Rent Connecticut wanted to lower the cap to 2.5%, had a large following and was very well organized. It became quickly apparent that action was needed to support housing providers in the multifamily sector.
“They were frighteningly well-organized,” recalled Sheila Leach, vice president of operations at the Home Builders and Remodelers Association (HBRA) of Central Connecticut, who attended several of the Cap the Rent events to get a better understanding of the organization’s strategy and messaging. “And they had a story to tell.”
Rent control in Connecticut was driven by a rapid increase in rents because of rising inflation and expenses housing providers were facing. Rents increased by more than 25% in the New Haven area.
This environment, coupled with many Cap the Rent organizers living in deplorable conditions with absentee landlords — leaking roofs, no heat or hot water — created the perfect storm that allowed rent control to take roots as an issue in Connecticut.
“But these are not our members. These are not our housing providers,” Leach noted.
The HBRA of Central Connecticut mobilized its Multifamily Council — which had recently been formed to support its members in the multifamily sector. The HBRA began utilizing resources through both NAHB staff member Karl Eckhart and fellow NAHB members to help build support by educating multifamily professionals on the impact rent control will have on them and the industry.
“Many members wanted to dismiss it — they didn’t think it applied to them — but we felt otherwise,” Leach shared.
The HBRA of Central Connecticut also strengthened support against this legislation by building partnerships with other like-minded local organizations, including the Connecticut Apartment Association, the Connecticut Property Owners Alliance and the Connecticut Coalition of Property Owners. Information sharing and networking allowed the HBRA of Central Connecticut to become a greater part of the discussion on rent control and coordinate advocacy efforts with these groups.
“Landlords could share the negative impact from their perspective,” Leach added. “It helped unify our message going forward.”
This unified, but unique, message told from a variety of perspectives in opposition of rent control became a positive during the public hearings surrounding the legislation. Nearly 400 people were scheduled to testify both in support of and opposition to rent control. But the story in support of rent control became somewhat monotonous throughout the hearings, as the same coached messages were used repeatedly by different testifiers.
“We may not have been mighty in number, but we had a unique and compelling story,” Leach stated. “We could show how rent control could actually make the situation worse on tenants from a business perspective.”
On March 7, the Housing Committee decided that the legislation would not move forward, and instead created two legislative task forces to further explore the issue — and likely to address it again in the future.
The experience was a valuable one for the HBRA of Central Connecticut, which saw not only the amount of support garnered by the rent control efforts, but also provided a better understanding for members on what is happening in their state.
“Our members, who are not those type of housing providers, were appalled,” Leach shared. “We may know it happens — we certainly have heard the stories — but many of us don’t think it happens here.”
In concert with its partners, the HBRA of Central Connecticut worked to promote the value of exploring additional options to the housing affordability crisis and provide tenants with safe, affordable housing.
“We want to be part of the solution and hold the bad characters accountable,” Leach noted. “We are professional, responsible housing providers who stand ready to be part of the solution to the housing crisis in Connecticut. The reason this legislation popped up was because folks in need had nowhere else to turn.”
Leach counts the resources and knowledge from NAHB staff — including information and materials used to advocate against rent control in other states — and testimony from other NAHB members, such as Andrew Chaban of Princeton Properties, as key assets in both opposing rent control legislation and building support among members. Information is also available on nahb.org.