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Mayor releases legislative agenda

Rent control, MBTA oversight among asks

Isaiah Thompson

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu is promoting her agenda for action at the state level as a new legislative session begins on Beacon Hill.

While Boston’s mayor does not have a literal seat at the table when it comes to state laws, many (if not most) significant changes to Boston laws — especially around housing and development, taxes and education — require enabling legislation at the state level. That’s sometimes directly, through the passage of so-called home rule petitions, which must first gain approval by the City Council and require the mayor’s signature; and other times indirectly, through the passage of state laws that enable local policy initiatives.

Wu’s agenda for 2023 encompasses several initiatives, including the mayor’s recently announced push for rent stabilization (often dubbed “rent control”) to protect vulnerable tenants from extreme rent hikes; a long-proposed real estate transfer fee;  a ban on “predatory” energy supply companies doing business in Boston; and various measures around the MBTA, including a seat for Boston on the T’s board of directors.

Real estate transfer fee, senior tax relief

Wu says the city will refile a home rule petition to allow the city to impose a tax of up to 2% on real estate sales above $2 million. The same measure would also expand a property tax exemption for Boston seniors who are homeowners. Wu’s office says the new fee would generate some $100 annually “to create and preserve affordable housing in Boston and reduce property taxes for qualified low-income senior homeowners.”

State Rep. Brandy Fluker Oakley, whose district includes parts of Milton, Hyde Park and Mattapan, is House sponsor of the measure. She told the Banner in a statement she is “optimistic about the bill’s future, particularly as the state and city continue to focus on creating affordable housing, and providing much needed financial relief to seniors who are on a fixed income, which is precisely why this transfer fee is needed.”

State Sen. Lydia Edwards, who initially proposed a similar, although more aggressive, transfer fee while serving in Boston’s City Council, also expressed optimism, noting Gov. Healey has been supportive of such local initiatives generally.

“I think they’re necessary,” said Edwards of the plans. “I don’t know how else you’re going to get the income we need to save our housing stock and to build for families and working-class people without money — so we need the money.”

MBTA representation and equity

Boston residents, Wu’s office notes, make up “the core of the MBTA’s ridership” — yet are not directly represented on the T’s board of directors, a seven-member body appointed by the governor. Legislation filed in the state House and Senate would add a “Boston seat” to the board.

Another of Wu’s proposals, meanwhile, aims for “fare equity” by reducing the cost of single-ride fares from commuter rail stations located in Boston — namely, in Roslindale, Hyde Park, Readville and West Roxbury — to the same cost as a single trip on the subway. The measure would not only save city commuters some $4.50 per ride, says Wu, but would increase commuter-rail ridership and take pressure off traffic congestion.

Rent stabilization

Earlier this month, Wu unveiled her proposals around rent stabilization — measures that would impose limits, in certain cases and with many exclusions, on the degree to which landlords may increase tenants’ year-to-year rents. The measure, Wu says, will “protect families from rent-gouging and displacement as Boston continues to grow.”

Wu’s proposal is already facing criticism from opposite directions. Real estate and development interests say that the measures will stifle new building and hurt the city’s economy, which is highly dependent on real estate values. Advocates for tenant protections, however, have criticized Wu’s proposals as not going far enough and containing too many exemptions for landlords.

Wu’s proposed home rule petition will see hearings in Boston’s City Council before going to Beacon Hill, assuming it passes the Council and (especially if amended) receives the mayor’s final signature.

BPDA reform

The Boston Planning and Development agency, a quasi-municipal agency that dates back to federal urban renewal efforts of the 1950s into the 1970s, remains empowered under urban renewal plans encompassed in state law and set to expire this year. Given the impending expiration date, the Wu administration says it will be pursuing a home rule petition that will “seek to amend the decades-old state law that governs urban renewal in Boston to remove and modernize antiquated structures which would allow Boston to better meet the needs of current and future Boston residents.”

State Sen. Liz Miranda praised the measures, telling the Banner in a statement that she is “optimistic that the administration is aiming to tackle the longstanding consequences and inherent inequities of urban renewal, as well as our city’s broken development process and skyrocketing rent prices. Growing up off Dudley Street in Roxbury, I can say that we have never fully recovered from urban renewal.”

Early education for homeless children

The Wu administration is supporting state legislation that would allow families experiencing homelessness to access childcare “immediately,” instead of having to wait to receive state vouchers. The legislation would also make children up to age 3 immediately and automatically qualified to receive “early intervention” services from state agencies for one year after becoming homeless.

‘Predatory’ electric companies

Wu is supporting state legislation to ban predatory competitive electric supply companies, operating in Boston and other municipalities, that offer alternative energy plans. These plans are often, the Wu administration says, far higher-priced than the city’s own Boston Community Choice Electricity program. Wu’s office says that “extensive investigations by the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office have documented ways that Massachusetts residents, particularly low-income residents and people of color, are targeted by these companies.”