SEPTEMBER 2, 1952
HYDE PARK, Monday—A woman lawyer in St. Louis, Missouri, writes me a letter taking me to task for believing in an extension of rent control, and pleading a cause for the landlord. She says:
"In my opinion, rent control is discrimination in favor of one class against another and it is not the American way of life." She goes on to say that in her area of the country there is no evidence of a "shortage of housing units," adding that many homes have been built of late and that the population has not increased unduly. She feels that landlords are beset by rising prices and cannot keep apartments in good condition for a price which makes it possible to rent at the same amount as in the past. To restrict a landlord to a price a little above what she calls the 1942 levels, when wage earners would not be willing to accept such restrictions on their wages, in her opinion is an injustice.
I know that the unions have tried to keep their members' wages as nearly as possible in line with the increased cost of living and we all of us know that as wages go up to meet the increased costs, the costs go up to cover the increased wages. It is a vicious circle. The only way to stop it, of course, would be to clamp down on everything all at once. No price increases for anything—which would mean no higher profits for anybody, no wage increases, no rent increases.
The trouble is that so many special interests would be hurt, if this program were enforced, that I doubt if you could get Congress or the Executive branch of the government to stand firm. I know that it is a bad thing when the owner of real estate does not get a fair return permitting him not only to keep his property in good condition, but also enabling him to feel that his profits are sufficient to make him want to buy land and build houses. We have only to look at the French to realize what happens when landlords can afford no repairs and there is no incentive to build.
This, of course, does not affect public low-cost housing. But the major need in every country is reasonably-priced housing built by private enterprise. People must be able to rent these houses, landlords must be able to make a reasonable profit and keep them in repair. I cannot help believing, however, that before the rent controls were put into effect a careful survey was made to make sure of the need. Even though my St. Louis correspondent does not believe that there are three million low-salaried workers at this time in the country, I think she must be wrong. If you include city, state and national civil servants who rarely get high salaries, and teachers and nurses and many white-collar workers, you will find that their salaries do not run into the higher brackets. Perhaps what we need is a general regional survey to find out what should be done in different parts of the country to meet any unfairness to any group.