Two lawmaker-landlords and two philosophies on housing policy
To understand the philosophical tug-of-war over how to make more affordable rental housing available to Connecticut residents, one need look no further than a recent exchange between two state lawmakers who also happen to be landlords.
The exchange took place during a recent public hearing of the Housing Committee, which was hearing testimony on a bill that would allow landlords to ask for larger security deposits. Currently, landlords are not allowed to ask for more than two months rent.
Sen. Rob Sampson, a Wolcott Republican who launched the legislature’s Conservative Caucus and is the proponent of the bill, was there to lobby the committee to scrap the current law.
Democratic Rep. Brandon McGee – co-chairman of the Housing Committee and leader of the legislature’s Black & Puerto Rican Caucus – began pressing Sampson to explain why the law should be changed.
“It’s a private contract and it should be determined by market forces,” Sampson responded. “That is America. That is what was envisioned by our founders. It is what made this country great and amazing: to give each of us the opportunity to live fulfilling lives.”
McGee wasn’t buying it.
“I’ve got to tell you, America has not always been too kind to many people. And as a black man, it has not been too kind to me,” McGee said. “So what I am getting at is… ”
Before he could finish, Sampson interrupted to ask, “What does that have to do with any of this?”
“It has everything to do with it,” McGee shot back.
At issue is whether state laws aimed at helping provide low-income residents access to housing – such as the one that caps how much a landlord can charge for a security deposit – are helping or hurting.
Connecticut has among the most expensive rental housing in the country and one of the highest rates of residents who spend more than half their income on rental housing. In the Fairfield County area, for example, 30% of renters are spending more than half their income on housing, while in the New Haven and Hartford areas, one-quarter of residents are, according to the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University.
Sampson believes such measures are stifling opportunities because a landlord cannot agree to take a larger deposit from someone with bad credit to offset that increased risk. McGee believes such allowances will lead to discrimination – certain people could be asked to put more down – or put housing out of reach for those who can’t afford more than two-months rent.
“It’s a matter of us both understanding different perspectives when it comes to housing discrimination,” McGee said. “If we didn’t need rules, people would be all peachy keen and everything would be great. … We can definitely agree to disagree. I am a landlord just like you, and I appreciate your perspective.”
Sampson seemed unmoved, responding, “My position is contained in the Declaration of Independence.”
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