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Wu convenes rent stabilization group

Committee will explore city’s options for rent stabilization legislation

Anna Lamb
Wu convenes rent stabilization group
Boston Mayor Michelle Wu speaks during a press conference announcing a rent stabilization advisory committee. PHOTO: JEREMIAH ROBINSON, MAYOR’S OFFICE

Last Thursday, Mayor Michelle Wu announced a new advisory committee charged with exploring strategies for rent stabilization in Boston.

Billed as a “rent stabilization” advisory committee — a term which the Mayor said she uses interchangeably with rent control — the group will be tasked with studying the structure and outcomes of rent stabilization programs in other cities, and in turn making recommendations to Wu and her Office of Housing on how best to rein in rising rents across the city.

“Cities across the country use rent stabilization as one tool among many to protect tenants and keep families in their homes,” Wu said. “The majority of Boston residents and families are renters. If we aren’t willing to take on the rent increases that are driving families out of Boston, then we aren’t meeting the needs of our neighborhoods.”

According to statistics from Wu’s office, almost 65% of Bostonians are renters, and more than half of them are spending beyond what is considered by experts to be a sustainable share of their monthly income on rent. The statistics, pulled from 2020 census data, also show Black Bostonians struggling disproportionately. Boston’s non-Hispanic Black population fell 6% citywide between 2010-2020, while the number of Blacks buying and renting in nearby cities such as Brockton have increased.

Whittier Street Health Center CEO Frederica Williams addresses reporters during an announcement of the mayor’s rent stabilization advisory committee. PHOTO: JEREMIAH ROBINSON, MAYOR’S OFFICE

This is the latest effort by the mayor to combat the lack of affordable housing in the city — last week she signed a home-rule petition to implement a transfer fee of up to 2% on real estate sales over $2 million that would raise money for affordable housing and help keep seniors struggling with bills in their homes. The mayor also said she will be looking to update the city’s commercial linkage fee and inclusionary development policies soon as well.

As for what the rent stabilization might look like, the mayor said that will be up to the committee to decide, though she threw out some examples: setting specific rents, capping the amount people pay and putting parameters on how quickly rents can go up.

“It could meet anywhere in between as well,” she said at the March 10 announcement. 

As for possible funding sources for rent stabilization programs, the committee is likely to suggest drawing from federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds, although that is still up in the air.

“We’re having lots of discussions right now about the ARPA funding,” said Sheila Dillon, the city’s chief of Housing. “We do see it as a great opportunity to increase money for our housing programs, but also to look at, ‘How do we take this one-time money and do things differently so we can demonstrate and use them as models for how to move forward?’”

The new committee, made up entirely of volunteers, is 23 members strong, several of whom flanked the mayor during her announcement. They are scheduled to meet monthly to hear from experts on different rent stabilization models and from officials in the Mayor’s Office of Housing and the Boston Planning & Development Agency (BPDA) on local rental market conditions. During the press conference, Wu said committee members are also expected to do readings as part of a curriculum to best address affordable housing needs and “to start from a place of facts.”

The committee is also scheduled to hold community listening sessions to gather community feedback throughout the process. The first session will be held virtually on April 19.

Also joining Wu on Thursday were state Sen. Lydia Edwards and state Rep. Nika Elugardo, both of whom spoke about the need to address the issue of rising rents with a regional approach. Additionally, it seems likely both women will be essential in rent control making its way to Boston, as it will require state approval in order to be allowed. A 1994 ballot initiative banned rent control statewide.

“I personally have been the filer of many rent stabilization bills. And everybody here has had my back on that. And I have your back, Mayor Wu,” Elugardo said.

Attempts by Elugardo and other lawmakers to pass such measures have largely failed as widespread support has not been seen on Beacon Hill. Governor Charlie Baker has also repeatedly expressed his distaste for rent control measures, telling Boston Public Radio back in October that he would “probably not” sign anything reinstating them.

“It’s not up for debate that the rents are out of control. It’s not up for debate that we have created this problem and only we can fix this problem,” Edwards said Thursday.

The committee is set to meet throughout 2022, in order, Wu said, to have a proposal ready for the next state legislative session.

The full membership of the Rent Stabilization Advisory Committee is as follows:

Emma Anderson, Boston Teachers Union member

Kathy Brown, coordinator at Boston Tenant Coalition

Joe Byrne, executive secretary-treasurer for the North Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenters

Karen Chen, executive director at Chinese Progressive Association

Filaine Deronnette, vice president of Health Systems for 1199 SEIU

Emilio Dorcely, CEO of Urban Edge

Dermot Doyne, local landlord and business owner

Chris Herbert, managing director of the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies

Beyazmin Jimenez, Abundant Housing Massachusetts board president

Michael Kane, executive director at Mass. HUD Tenant Alliance

Brian Kavoogian, managing director of National Development

Curtis Kemeny, CEO and president of Boston Residential Group

Joe Kriesberg, president of Massachusetts Association of Community Development Corporations

Denise Matthews-Turner, co-executive director at City Life Vida Urbana

Lisa Owens, executive director at Hyams Foundation

Jeanne Pinado, vice president of Capital Markets at Colliers International

Mimi Ramos, executive director at New England United for Justice

Megan Sandel, associate professor of pediatric medicine at Boston University

Chanda Smart, CEO at Onyx

Lauren Song, senior attorney at Greater Boston Legal Services

Justin Steil, associate professor of Law and Urban Planning, MIT

Carolyn Villers, executive director at Mass Senior Action

Josh Zakim, founder and executive director at Housing Forward MA