This is a guest post by Rafi Glazer, a member of JUFJ’s Montgomery County Leadership Council, about joining with fellow JUFJers and partners to support crucial housing justice legislation in Montgomery County.
The Jewish holiday of Passover tells the story of our ancient liberation, and insists we turn this experience into compassion as we work toward the day when all of us are truly liberated. In fact, one of the most repeated commandments in all of Torah is to protect the widow, orphan, and stranger, because we were once strangers in Mitzrayim, the ancient name for the land now known as Egypt. After escaping slavery, the Israelites lived for 40 years in transitory housing; as Jews today, we are obligated to support the most vulnerable in our communities in their fight for affordable, safe, sanitary, and stable housing.
As a registered resource parent, or foster parent, I have opened my home to some of those most vulnerable. Over the past three years, I have had the privilege of caring for 11 different children whose lives are affected by, among other factors, the housing crisis in this county. It breaks my heart that some of these children would be with their biological families if unsustainably high annual rent increases had not placed them in unstable housing. When we drive around and a child points their finger at multiple houses and says, “I used to live there,” it tells me that their families have not had stable housing. Reunification, the goal of foster care, can’t take place when biological relatives can’t afford to live in this County. Solving the housing crisis will require a multipronged approach, but an annual limit on rent increases, known as rent stabilization, is one key tool that can support our county’s most vulnerable families right now.
Thankfully, our movement for rent stabilization is gaining momentum. On Tuesday, March 28, more than 150 people from the HOME Act Coalition (including over 20 JUFJers) gathered at the County Council Building to fight for the HOME Act (Bill 16-23) and oppose harmful, competing legislation. The HOME Act, co-sponsored by Councilmembers Will Jawando and Kristin Mink, is critical to keeping thousands of renters housed; it was co-created by impacted tenants, community advocates, and housing experts, whose experiences and expertise helped craft the bill. On the other hand, the “Anti-Rent Gouging Bill” (Bill 15-23) would result in the displacement of our most vulnerable families.
Before the hearing, volunteers from the 25+ organizations in the HOME Act Coalition, across race, class, and zip code, had a community dinner where we connected over deeply caring about making our county an affordable place to live. The feeling in the room was electric! During the hearing, nearly 60 people testified in support of the HOME Act while the rest of the coalition cheered and waved our signs. We heard stories from trans youth, single parents, educators, and homeless, disabled, and retired renters all struggling to pay rent, enduring the catastrophic health impacts of eviction, and being uprooted from their communities. Their stories were powerful and built upon my understanding of this issue from the lens of my foster children to show how necessary it is to help all members of our community find stable housing.
Their stories also made clear that the HOME Act is the bill that renters need, whereas Bill 15-23 is drafted so that rent increases of 10% or more could still be the norm. Despite being called the “Anti-Rent Gouging Bill,” it would allow rents to go up 8% plus inflation every year, making it impossible for many, especially our most vulnerable residents, to afford to live in Montgomery County, and leading to the rent gouging it claims to prevent.
Thankfully, the HOME Act would give residents an affordable and understandable expectation of rent increases from year to year by stabilizing them at 3%. It is this reasonable cap increase that will allow the many vulnerable members of our communities to thrive in this amazing place: to attend and teach at our great schools, to shop and work at our great local businesses. Our county will be even more amazing when high rent prices are not a barrier for living here.
The hearings are just one part of the process, and there is much more to do to make sure that our County Council passes the HOME Act to ensure that all of our neighbors have the opportunity to put down roots in this amazing county. The final vote will not happen until later this summer, so reach out to your Councilmembers and urge them to do the necessary and important work to keep all Montgomery County residents housed.