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Taking a closer look at Mayor Wu's plan to bring back rent control in Boston

Push to bring back rent control in Boston
Push to bring back rent control in Boston 03:00

BOSTON -- With booming rental prices across the city, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu has put forth a proposal for rent control. Boston residents haven't seen this type of legislation since the city did away with it in 1994.

"We eliminated if because it was closing down future development," said Northeastern Professor Emeritus Barry Bluestone. He has been studying rent control for decades, "Over and over again I had to comment on rent control proposals, and had to say, 'In the end, don't do this.' This I can fully support."

The mayor's plan will cap rent hikes at 6%, however it can be as high as 10% if inflation is poor. Any new development will be exempt for the first 15 years. Smaller owned properties like triple-deckers will also be exempt.

"This has the ability to limit rent control with the addition of new housing which we so much need," said Bluestone.

Some real estate agents fear the legislation will continue to scare off developers. They say older buildings require more upkeep and renovation.

"How is that going to get paid for?" questioned Greg Vasil, CEO of the Greater Boston Real Estate Board (GBREB). "I can tell you that we have had members, large producers of housing in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts that are watching this very closely because they don't want to upgrade in a rent control environment."

Vasil says the issue is more about increasing supply against demand. He adds that during the pandemic, people fled the city, Vasil claiming it led to lower rent costs. He says prices began to rebound as residents and students returned to the city. He points to zoning as the major catalyst to improving rent costs.

"A lot of communities talk about housing, but they don't produce it, so we think the solution is to look at the zoning, and to zone for more multifamily units out there," believes Vasil.

The GBREB points to Portland, Oregon as an example of failed rent control. They say landlords knew the rent cap was coming, so they hiked their prices right before the legislation went into effect.

"The state is sitting on billions of dollars right now. Get some of that back to the local communities as an incentive to create more local housing," suggested Vasil.

"I think it's a deeper issue than just build more housing, what kind of housing?" questioned former Boston Mayor Kim Janey, who is now the CEO of EMPath, an organization that helps people escape poverty and push toward financial freedom. "We have to think about equitable access in all of our neighborhoods. If we aren't careful, we will end up with a city of very wealthy and very poor residents in this city. Folks in the middle being pushed out what is squeezed."

The proposal will also have to pass through the Boston City Council as well as the State House, State Senate, and the Governor's office.

"The reason why you have to have so many checks for the city of Boston to make a decision about the city of Boston I think is problematic," adds Janey. "That can be a barrier that can hold up progress."

The mayor's proposal is now before the advisory committee. In a statement, a city spokesperson told us, "We continue to work with the advisory committee toward specific legislative language that would protect families from rent gouging and displacement as our city continues to grow. We look forward to receiving additional stakeholder feedback before filing a proposal with the city council." 

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