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Rent control … oh, how we miss those woe-be-gone days …

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu takes steps to make rents more affordable

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu is delivering on a campaign promise to make Boston apartment rents more affordable.

Boston Apartment Rent Stabilization

On Thursday she announced the formation of the city’s Rent Stabilization Advisory Committee to study local housing conditions, along with the structure and outcomes of similar programs in other cities.

Comprised of housing advocates, developers, tenants and other stakeholders, Wu said the committee will be tasked with making recommendations to stabilize city rents and protect tenants from being displaced. The committee will meet throughout 2022 to have a proposal ready for the next state legislative session. 

Wu said cities across the country use rent stabilization as a tool to protect tenants and keep families in their homes. 

“The majority of Boston residents and families are apartment renters,” she said. “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 a release from Wu’s office, almost 65% of the city’s residents are apartment renters, and more than half of them spend 30% or more of their monthly income on rent.

Apartment rent stabilization is one of many tools to support renters in the short term, alongside longer-term measures that can be used to tackle housing supply and affordability,” she said. 

The committee will meet monthly and also hold community listening sessions to hear community perspectives on housing affordability challenges and potential solutions. 

The first community listening session will be held virtually on April 19.

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Boston Beacon Hill Apartments for Rent

Much to my surprise, I found a story in a New York newspaper about rent control in Cambridge.

And about how it had some negative effects on housing in the Commonwealth.

From the New York Observer:

In 1994, Massachusetts ended rent regulations on most apartments. Boston and its suburb Cambridge were among the state’s few municipalities that still had wide-scale controls on apartments that kept rents below market.

In Cambridge, two-thirds of apartments in buildings with at least four units were regulated …

… “Five years after Massachusetts voters ended rent regulation in Boston, Brookline and Cambridge,” began a New York Times article from July 2000, “rents have taken sizable jumps, the cities are spiffier and less pockmarked by deteriorating neighborhoods and many poorer people have been forced to move to communities farther from the urban core. [A] leading landlord in Cambridge found that rents for his company’s formerly controlled apartments have doubled.”

Well, the article makes it clear: lack of rent control hurts people.

Well, I disagree.

There are many problems with the reporter’s analysis.

First, it appears to ignore the effects of a healthy economy on rents. Yes, rents went up, but wouldn’t they have, anyway? I mean, think about how prices of all housing has gone up over the past decade.

Plus, as the article mentions, many of the units that were previously regulated were in poor shape. Once rent control was outlawed, lndlords were attracted to the idea of making money (imagine that …) so they renovated their properties. Yes, they cost more. But the apartment quality was a lot better!

Finally, even if you think rent control was a good idea, how many times have you heard about some rich person (or middle-class) who has a rent-controlled apartment? (Most recently, Nora Ephron, the mega-successful writer/director was kicked out of her rent-stabilized New York City pied-a-terre because they were able to finally prove she made too much money …)

(Yes, I realize criticizing that a few people took advantage of the situation doesn’t mean the goals were not laudable, but I’m willing to rule out having it at all, even though it was abused by a few. (Well, not a few, I don’t think …))

Let me tell you one thing I know for sure.

Rent control is one of the worst ideas to hit America. Ever.

Creating affordable housing is an admirable goal.

How you go about it, is open to discussion.

We are all very fortunate that citizens of the Commonwealth voted the right way, back in the 1990’s.

But we should all keep an eye out for attempts to undo the good the rest of us have done.

Rent control is bad.

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Updated: 1st Q 2018