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Keller @ Large: With Rise In Evictions, Boston Mayoral Candidates Debate Rent Control

BOSTON (CBS) -- With housing prices soaring and a surge in evictions looming, Boston's housing crisis is at a boiling point.

The price for a one bedroom apartment in the city is up to an average of just over $2,800, and it continues to climb from there, with a two bedroom costing $3,500 while a three bedroom goes on average for just over $4,300 a month.

It's been 28 years since Massachusetts voters threw out rent control, and repeated efforts to bring it back have failed.

But now, with the one-two punch of soaring costs and the pandemic's economic damage pushing many renters to the brink, Boston City Councillor and mayoral candidate Michelle Wu is calling for a return to some form of rent control.

"Boston is in the midst of a housing crisis," she says, noting that aggressive efforts to promote more affordable housing construction have fallen short of what's needed. "Protecting people in their homes and making sure in a targeted, specific way that as we are moving to increase the supply of housing, while we're waiting for that to happen and the years that it takes to build those new units, we're not losing our families in the process."

But candidate John Barros, Boston's former economic development chief, says the type of rent control Wu is entertaining will speed up already-rampaging gentrification and working-class displacement.

"Let's not throw the baby out with the bath water, let's be careful about what we ask for," he says. "It would stop the production of housing which would in turn stop the production of more affordable housing, it would lock in rents at today's rates and that would only help the people who can afford the rent today, not the people who are being pushed out."

And a spokesman for property owners says there's got to be a better way to solve the housing crisis.

"We're just calling for a fair level playing field, where the rights of both parties can be preserved and protected and rent control just doesn't do that. It devastates both sides," says Amir Shahsavari, vice president of the Small Property Owners Association.

What about the politics of all this?

The statewide vote to ban rent control back in 1994 won by a narrow margin, and the tactic is popular in contemporary polls of Boston residents. Nonetheless, as the lone candidate in the race to support its return in some form, Wu is taking a risk.

But, she says: "If we just stick to what we're used to, we'll see this housing crisis continue to grow."

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