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Keller @ Large: Wu's rent control plan for Boston faces hurdles on Beacon Hill

Keller @ Large: After City Council approval, rent control faces hurdles in the State House
Keller @ Large: After City Council approval, rent control faces hurdles in the State House 02:46

BOSTON - The Boston City Council approved Mayor Michelle Wu's plan to cap annual rent hikes Wednesday. It now faces major hurdles on Beacon Hill.

"We are headed toward hurtling off a cliff when it comes to affordability in this state," Wu said in a WBZ-TV interview March 5.

And for Wu, the first step toward averting disaster is her plan to limit rent increases to 6% a year plus inflation, with a 10% cap at times of high inflation.

Before the final vote at the Boston City Council meeting, supporters of Wu's plan underlined the urgency of the rental crisis. 

"We heard horrendous stories the other day in public testimony about tenants who were seeing 100% increases in their rent," said District 9 Councilor Liz Breadon of Brighton.

And while the mayor's proposal has taken plenty of heat from pro-rent-control critics who claimed it didn't go far enough, Wednesday was a moment for closing ranks. 

"I'm really happy with that compromise," said District 6 Councilor Kendra Lara of Jamaica Plain, "because I really do think that we have an opportunity to show a broad unified front at the State House," where legislative approval is necessary.

The Wu plan passed easily, by an 11-2 vote. But one of those two opponents, District 3 Councilor Frank Baker of South Boston, invoked some of the bad memories that led voters statewide to ban rent control back in the 1990s. 

"Rent control, I believe, is bad policy," he said. "We lived through it, my neighborhood went through it. I never even saw anyone's house get painted back in the day, never mind put an addition on, put new windows in, insulate the place."

After the vote, a jubilant Mayor Wu set the stage for the next step. 

"This can't stand for Boston. We cannot be a place where people get pushed out from the communities that they want to continue contributing to," she said. "So we'll make that case up at the State House."

So it's on to Beacon Hill for Boston's rent control plan, with a conspicuous lack of advance support from Governor Maura Healey and the legislative leaders. Everyone up there agrees there's a critical lack of affordable housing that needs to be addressed, but rent control comes with a checkered past and deep-pocketed critics.

The heavy lifting for Wu's reforms still lies ahead.

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