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State reps push for return of rent control

The CoStar report on rising rents north of Boston comes three weeks after two Beacon Hill lawmakers promised to lobby for the return of rent control.

State Reps. Michael Connolly (D-Cambridge) and Nika Elugardo (D-Boston) said they will file legislation that would allow communities to cap rents. But sources tell The Item the proposal is dead on arrival on Beacon Hill.

Voters banned rent control in a 1994 statewide referendum. At the time, Boston, Cambridge and Brookline had such ordinances. Foes and many economists believe that rent control discourages the construction of new housing and investment in existing rental properties. While the three communities that had rent control voted overwhelmingly to keep it, the measure was abolished in a close 51 to 49 percent vote.

Still, housing advocates say tenants are being driven out by the high cost of rents and the government needs to help. Without protection, they say, landlords are free to raise rents in any amount and evict good tenants for no reason.

Voters have spoken on rent control and rejected it, said state Rep. Daniel Cahill (D-Lynn).

“Rent control sounds nice, but it doesn’t work and would do nothing for cities like Lynn,” he said. “If they want to discuss rent control for communities that don’t have enough affordable housing, like the municipalities that fail to satisfy their Chapter 40B requirements, then maybe.”

Sen. Brendon Crighton (D-Lynn), chairman of the Joint Committee on Housing, said while he welcomes a discussion on rent control, the focus should stay on housing production.

“Anyone will tell you rising rents and the high cost of a Massachusetts home are caused by pent-up demand,” he said. “We are producing less than half the housing built during the peak in the 1970s.”

Housing is the number one reason constituents call state Rep. Thomas Walsh’s (D-Peabody) office, he said.

“It’s the hardest problem to solve, because by the time people call us, they are at their wits’ end,” he said. “Our housing stock is limited, but the answer is not rent control, it’s more housing. We need every type of housing, including workforce and high-end apartments.”

State Rep. Bradley Jones, the Republican minority leader from North Reading who represents Lynnfield, said given that voters rejected rent control, any attempt to bring it back should include a ballot question.

“No wonder voters have a certain mistrust, because they vote a certain way and the Legislature ignores it,” he said.

One North Shore lawmaker said she lived in a rent-controlled apartment in Cambridge in the 1980s and it’s one approach to making housing affordable.

“It’s an interesting proposal that’s worthy of discussion,” said state Rep. Lori Ehrlich (D-Marblehead). “I don’t have a strong opinion one way or the other.”

State Rep. Peter Capano (D-Lynn) said something must be done to deal with the region’s housing crisis.

“We need to consider everything to make housing more affordable,” he said. “Everything should be on the table.”

 

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