A correction has been added to this newsletter.
Opponents of a potential ballot initiative allowing for a local rent control option are covering all their bases in urging Attorney General Andrea Campbell not to certify it. In between claims that the ballot measure improperly includes unrelated items in the same proposal and that it would allow taking property without just compensation, coalitions of real estate and property interests include an unusual claim – that the rent control measure tries to put religion on the ballot.
A ballot measure, filed by state Rep. Mike Connolly, that would allow communities to enact policies regulating rents, lists units that would be exempt from such controls, including units in two- or three-family owner-occupied buildings, cooperatives, or hotels and boarding houses where people stay for less than two weeks. But it also includes a carve-out exempting units “in a hospital, convent, monastery, public institution or college or school dormitory operated exclusively for charitable or educational purposes.”
Opponents have jumped on that provision, arguing that it constitutes another rationale for tossing the question from the 2024 ballot.
The Massachusetts Constitution lays out rules for what kind of subjects are appropriate for a ballot initiative. Generally speaking, the Supreme Judicial Court has concluded that religious matters cannot be put to a public vote by referendum in order to avoid using the ballot as a launch point for “public political discussion of matters relating to religion.”
That is effectively what this small provision of Connolly’s measure would do, claim three memos sent to the attorney general from real estate, landlord, and development groups, who have pledged tens of millions of dollars to opposing efforts to bring back rent control.
The ballot measure “invites controversial conversation with its preferential language and exemptions pertaining only to certain religions, religious practices and religious institutions – namely monasteries and convents which are traditionally associated with Christianity – while containing no express inclusions or exemptions for other religions or faiths, such as Islam or Judaism,” attorneys for the the Small Property Owners Association and Boston Asian Landlord Association wrote.
Legislation that has been filed to allow local rent control options frequently includes a number of exemptions. Along with sponsoring the ballot measure, Connolly has filed a bill to allow rent control that would not apply to renters in owner-occupied buildings with less than three units. A bill put forward by Sen. Patricia Jehlen of Somerville exempts dorms, elder care units, owner-occupied buildings with less than four units, and public authority-regulated units.
The bills don’t include mention of convents and monasteries, but those types of housing units are listed in several existing statutes and ordinances, including anti-discrimination law and the City of Boston’s rental housing equity ordinance.
Gerry McDonough, an attorney for the rent control ballot measure proponents, says the phrase should be read in its broader context, not as singling out monasteries and convents but rather including them among similar types of exempted units.
“The clear purpose of this language in the Tenant Protection Act is to exempt property owners who do not have a profit-maximizing motive and therefore are unlikely to require regulation to protect tenants,” McDonough wrote in a letter to the attorney general responding to the argument raised by the opponents.
Connolly, a Cambridge Democrat, filed his ballot proposal as another potential path to securing tenant protections, with efforts to allow rent control through legislation moving languidly, to say the least, through the Legislature.
Circumventing the legislative process by ballot measure is dividing progressives, some of whom worry a pricey defeat at the voting booth might doom later chances on Beacon Hill, where legislators historically have shown little interest in revisiting the issue since rent control was banned statewide by a 1994 ballot question.
With a recent ballot question – set for a rematch – tossed by the Supreme Judicial Court just last year for including unrelated matters, that often-invoked line of attack is more likely to hold sway with the attorney general. Bringing religion into the debate is an unorthodox effort, but with just weeks before the September 6 certification deadline, every card is on the table.
Allston finance plan unveiled: The city of Boston, Harvard, and BU pledge $300 million for the $1.9 billion I-90 Allston project, with the city chipping in $100 million, Harvard $90 million, and BU $10 million. Harvard, in collaboration with the city, is also promising $100 million in “value capture” funding.
– The state is pledging more than $1 billion from unspecified bonds and loans ($470 million), Turnpike toll funds ($200 million), and millionaire tax revenues ($450 million). It is also counting on at least $500 million in federal grant money.
– Assuming fundraising proceeds as planned, state officials say construction would start in 2027 to lower the Turnpike and all other transportation elements in the area to ground level, straighten the roadway, and build a new MBTA station called West Station. The construction would pave the way for a new neighborhood of Boston being developed by Harvard. Read more.
Offshore wind contract terminated: The Department of Public Utilities approves without any comment the termination of Avangrid’s power purchase agreement with Eversource for the Commonwealth Wind wind farm. Similar agreements with National Grid and Unitil are expected shortly, which should allow Avangrid to bid in a state offshore wind procurement next year. Read more.
Maternity ward closure mitigation: UMass Memorial Medical Center offers non-emergency transit service to other hospitals as mitigation for its plan to close a maternity ward at a facility it owns in Leominster. Read more.
Queer educator: Suzanne Stillinger, an early childhood teacher in Northampton, says she celebrates the opportunity to be a queer educator but people like her working elsewhere need support. Read more.
FROM AROUND THE WEB
At Northern Essex Community College, Gov. Maura Healey celebrates tuition equity for undocumented students. (Salem News)
Community action agencies say a budget veto by Healey threatens their ability to provide services to low-income residents. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)
A Housatonic couple is refusing to pay its water bill until problems with the water are fixed. (Berkshire Eagle)
After clashes with the town administrator, Bourne’s sixth public works chief since the 1960s resigned Friday following several months of personal leave and making a public vow not to return to work under the current administrator. (Cape Cod Times)
Community Healthlink, which suspended multiple substance abuse programs after a surprise state inspection, expects its programs to reopen fully in eight to 12 months. (Worcester Telegram)
Boston Herald columnist Peter Lucas comes to the defense of Rep. Stephen Lynch following a Globe story raising questions about federal earmarks he secured for a South Boston health center where his wife works and a drug treatment agency whose board she sits on. Lucas says Lynch is being faulted for doing what he’s supposed to do – “bringing home the bacon.”
The Republican candidates for president faced off in their first debate – minus frontrunner Donald Trump – with entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy grabbing lots of attention with a bombastic performance that seemed at times to channel Trump’s slash-and-burn debate style. (New York Times)
Candidates for Boston’s open District 3 city council seat offer views on the crisis at Mass. and Cass. (Dorchester Reporter)
The Lynn Public Schools is considering approval of protective sweeps to address concerns about violence in the wake of a stabbing incident in the spring. (Daily Item) [This item was corrected to note the sweeps would not involve police.]
Mayor Michelle Wu appointed Chantal Lima Barbosa, a Boston Public Schools graduate who works as a recruiter at an education nonprofit, to a vacant seat on the Boston School Committee. (Boston Herald)
Meeting minutes show dissension in the discussion of a 10-month severance deal with Superintendent Michael Morris. The school district has been roiled by allegations improperly handling bullying of transgender students. (MassLive)
The MBTA is listening to a group of young hackers who have found a way to get free rides on the system. (GBH)
A pair of teens say their golf cart shuttle service between the Manchester commuter rail station and Singing Beach is working well. The teens provide the service for free but accept tips. (Gloucester Times)
Saint-Gobain says it is closing its plant in Merrimack, New Hampshire, which has been tied to PFAS contamination in the area, even though the facility recently won a permit to continue operation for several years. (New Hampshire Public Radio)
Utilities and major business groups in the state seem to be taking green turns that move away from dug-in opposition to climate initiatives. (Boston Globe)
Wellfleet has dropped a plan to dredge part of Wellfleet Harbor following public outcry over mitigation efforts. (Cape Cod Times)
The Boston Police Department has settled a lawsuit brought by Lawyers for Civil Rights, agreeing to clear a six-month backlog of public records requests. (Boston Globe)
The University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School has racked up $7.2 million in legal expenses in ongoing litigation over revenue sharing with UMass Memorial Health. (MassLive)
Ronan Farrow examines how the US government has become dependent on Elon Musk and is struggling to rein him in. (The New Yorker)