Boston Rent Control
In 1994, Massachusetts enacted a statewide ban on rent stabilization in all municipalities. Now, facing the permeating issue of affordable housing, Boston voters will be asked if they would like to lift the ban and stabilize rent increases.
In March 2023, the Boston City Council approved Mayor Michelle Wu’s rent control proposal with an 11-2 vote. The measure proposed a maximum allowable annual rent increase of the percentage change in the CPI plus 6%, or a 10% maximum increase, whichever was lower that particular year. The measure also included renter protections, such as only allowing for-cause evictions. Although the city council heavily voted in favor of Wu’s measure, opponents argued rent control would cause more harm than good. As stated by Boston’s WCVB News, those against rent control worry it will significantly increase rents in non-rent-controlled areas and also discourage the construction of affordable housing units. Those promoting Wu’s efforts say the rent control would protect Boston families from breakneck rent costs and ensure stability throughout neighborhoods. Boston reported a 14% annual rent growth rate in 2022, according to GlobeSt. This increase is on trend with the majority of major U.S. cities, with Phoenix, Austin, and Nashville all reporting annual rent growth over 20% in 2022. Although rent growth has slowed in 2023, renters still struggle to keep pace. At the same time, owners also have to combat higher operational costs due to heightened inflation.
In August, the Massachusetts Legislature opposed Wu’s, seemingly ending possible rent control. But now, the decision may be in the hands of the voters as state Representative Mike Connolly has filed a ballot measure petition to get the issue on the 2024 ballot. First, the petition must be approved by the state Attorney General, and then it can move into the signature phase. To get on the ballot, the petition must collect 90,000 required signatures (75,000 due by November 2023).
The future of Boston’s rent is up in the air, but it has caused a nationwide discussion on how cities should address rent-burdened tenants and whether rent stabilization is a pillar of hope for the affordable housing crisis or its Achilles heel.