Housing Advocates Seek New Statewide Rent Control Legislation With 5% Cap

Special to the Times

On Saturday, over 300 advocates, allies, and supporters from across the state chanted “5% rent control NOW!” as they introduced newly-filed legislation for statewide rent control. An Act enabling cities and towns to stabilize rents and protect tenants (HD3953/SD1818) was filed last week by Representatives Dave Rogers and Samantha Montaño and Senator Pat Jehlen in partnership with Homes For All Massachusetts, SEIU Massachusetts State Council, and Massachusetts Law Reform Institute. HD3953/SD1818 introduces a clearer framework for municipal rent control than other local option bills filed in recent years, with stronger tenant protections and a 5% maximum limit on rent increases.

A long list of tenants and small landlords from Boston, Randolph, Lynn, Ayer, Acton, Malden, and across the state spoke to the crowd, detailing the effects of rent increases on their families and neighborhoods. Lenor Pieriera, the member of New England United for Justice, said “I’m proud to be here as a member of the Homes For All coalition in support of rent control. I’m a small landlord in Mattapan and I know how important it is to stabilize rent because this means stabilizing the housing needs of our neighborhood…and I ask all of you to stand with us in this fight”.

If passed, HD3953/SD1818 will give municipalities across the state the option to adopt a rent control policy that would tie rent increases to the inflation rate, with a maximum increase of 5% per year – protecting tenants from rapidly rising inflaa tion and promoting long-term affordability within the housing market. The bill prevents no-fault evictions, which are extremely common in the state and have been on the rise since 2022, and grants a five year exemption to any new development from 2020 onwards. It provides exemptions for small landlords, defined as owner-occupied buildings with 4 or fewer units.

Denise Perrault, drove 45 miles to the rally.  “I’m facing a no-fault eviction, and this is probably the 4th one for me… There are 110 units where I live, and 50 people facing eviction,” Perrault said.. Ramona Almanzar, who came with a coalition of tenants from Lynn with Lynn United for Change, addressed the crowd emotionally: “My child had dreams of going to university and now says he should go to work instead of going to college to help pay for the rent increase. It is painful to know my son thinks he can’t attend college because of this rent increase. Without rent control, living will only become harder for low-income families like mine.” Ramona and her neighbors recently formed a tenant association to try to negotiate a more fair rent increase with their landlord; a rent control policy could have prevented the increase she is facing.  

Nearly half of all Massachusetts renters and over 70% of very low-income renters are burdened with unaffordable housing costs. Since 2010, the fair market rent for a two-bedroom in MA has increased by 55%.  Rent-burdened households are disproportionately Black and Latinx, and nationally, the median savings of rent-burdened tenants is $10. Statewide in Massachusetts, landlords filed nearly twice as many evictions per renter in neighborhoods of color compared to predominantly white neighborhoods. Boston consistently ranks as one of the most expensive cities in the country, with stark and worsening racial disparities: a recent report showed 7 out of 10 evictions filed in Boston were in neighborhoods where the majority of renters are people of color like Dorchester, Mattapan, and Roxbury. And for all the attention Boston’s skyrocketing prices receive, neighborhoods in the Central and Southeast Massachusetts housing court divisions see even higher rates of eviction filings in court, with single mothers facing some of the highest rates of evictions statewide.

“I’m Boston born and raised, and I live in an [income-restricted] IDP unit… these are supposed to be affordable units,”  exclaimed Shameeka Moreno, organizer of the Boston Tenant Coalition and Coalition for Truly Affordable Boston, “so please accommodate the units for the people who live there, don’t raise the rent every year–- $100 [rent increases] are a lot for someone who only gets a disability check.”

Housing justice advocates have been fighting to bring rent control back to Massachusetts since it was banned in 1994, when the real estate industry organized to ban rent control ordinances in the Commonwealth and across the country. Since 1994, rents and housing costs have spiraled far out of reach for working families and especially for people of color and single-parent households. Homes For All Massachusetts members support a range of legislation to address the issues of displacement and lack of affordable housing but prioritize rent control as an immediate need to curb displacement.“We need to transform the whole housing system to put people before profit,” said Isaac Simon Hodes of Lynn United For Change. “But rent control is one of the most urgent priorities right now. We need to stop the bleeding, the irreversible damage of eviction and displacement. Rent control doesn’t need 10 years to be built, it doesn’t need billions in financing– all we need is courage and strength of the people to make it happen now.”

Saturday marked the largest rally for rent control since 2020.The movement toward lifting the ban on rent control in Massachusetts has been gaining momentum in recent years after decades of organizing with increasing popular support and attention in municipal and statewide discussions and political campaigns. Nationally, several states and cities are adopting rent control policies. Oregon, New York, and California all enacted major tenant protection and rent control bills in 2020, and voters in St. Paul and Minneapolis passed rent control measures in 2021. President Biden just last week introduced federal tenant protections in response to the push for protections and rent controls around the country. Now, frontline residents and advocates are determined to add Massachusetts to the growing list of states passing strong rent control legislation to protect tenants from displacement.

Right to the City Boston (RTCB)  is an alliance of community-based organizations in Boston. We come together around a shared vision for the Right to Remain. RTCB is a multi-issued alliance of grassroots voices representing low-income, POC/immigrant communities working together for change! Our core leaders are: Alternatives for Community and Environment, Chinese Progressive Association, City Life/Vida Urbana and New England United 4 Justice. As an alliance, our agenda includes: The right to stable community, the right to economic justice, the right to democratic participation, the right to public good and the right to a healthy environment.

Homes for All Massachusetts is a statewide formation of grassroots housing justice groups working to halt displacement, increase community control of land, and win housing justice. Current core member organizations are: Alternatives for Community & Environment (ACE), Arise for Social Justice, Chinatown Community Land Trust, Chinese Progressive Association, City Life/Vida Urbana, Lynn United for Change, New England United for Justice, Right to the City Boston, and Springfield No One Leaves.

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