IN A HISTORIC win for Boston’s housing justice movement and working-class families, the Boston City Council recently voted 11-2, in favor of rent stabilization! Now the power is in the hands of Beacon Hill legislators to lift the statewide ban on rent control and bring stronger tenant protections to Massachusetts.
Thirty years ago, the big-profit real estate industry spent thousands of dollars to ban rent control statewide, even though a majority of working-class Bostonians voted to keep it in place. Since then, we’ve experienced a foreclosure crisis and now a housing affordability crisis that is ripping apart our neighborhoods but, at the same time, fuels our communities’ fight to remain here in Boston and across the Commonwealth. Our fight to lift the statewide ban on rent control is a fight for racial and economic justice for Massachusetts working-class tenants and property owners.
Communities across Massachusetts face an affordability and displacement crisis. Nearly half of all Massachusetts renters and over 70 percent of very low-income renters are burdened with unaffordable housing costs. Out of all evictions filed during the peak of the COVID pandemic, 43 percent occurred in neighborhoods where the majority of residents identify as Black, Latinx, Asian American/Pacific Islander, or Indigenous, despite the fact that only 32 percent of Massachusetts rental housing falls in these neighborhoods.
Areas with larger percentages of Black and Latinx renters saw disproportionately high rates of eviction filings. Single mothers experienced higher eviction filing rates while also struggling with the rising costs and challenges around food, energy, childcare, and transportation while balancing family care and a steady job. Lifting the ban on rent control is part of our collective fight for gender justice and against mass displacement in Massachusetts.
The Boston City Council passing a rent stabilization proposal 11 to 2 represents an incredibly strong consensus on a policy that last year seemed untouchable. Now Massachusetts knows they have a strong ally in Mayor Michelle Wu while the movement and push for rent stabilization and home rule petitions expands into towns like Somerville, New Bedford, Medford, and Lawrence, unifying the need for the State House to lift the ban on rent control.
A new report shows that popular support for rent control is not limited to Boston, as a majority of Massachusetts residents and 68 percent of likely voters across the Commonwealth support rent control. Homes for All Massachusetts, a statewide coalition of grassroots housing justice organizations, has put forth an enabling act to stabilize rentsthat would lift the ban on rent control, and allow communities to adopt a 5 percent cap on rent increases and protections against no-fault evictions.
We are fighting for a 5 percent cap on rents directly tied to the annual inflation rate to provide true stability to renters and homeowners struggling to keep up with rising real estate taxes. Working-class residents, like public school teachers, janitors, restaurant workers, health care workers, and small business owners, are struggling to afford to stay in Massachusetts.
A strong cap on rent increases protects the most vulnerable and stabilizes our communities, benefiting tenants and small landlords. Our partners in the Homes for All Mass Coalition also submitted a bill for statewide foreclosure prevention to protect small homeowners and landlords suffering from the housing crisis worsened due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Collectively, our organizations, City Life / Vida Urbana and New England United for Justice, have been working with tenants and homeowners to ward off displacement since the 1970s. The Homes For All Massachusetts coalition we are a part of covers communities from Boston, Lynn, to Springfield and all over the state. We must unite and advocate for the strongest rent control policy throughout Massachusetts. Join the fight for our homes and battle to lift the ban on rent control and finally let towns do what it takes to stabilize homes. Visit our website to read more about the local option for rent stabilization and foreclosure prevention bills for more stable homes.
Mimi Ramos is executive director of New England United for Justice and Mike Leyba is co-director of City Life/Vida Urbana.