On Tuesday, January 11th, the Massachusetts Joint Committee on Housing heard over eight hours of testimony on several pieces of landlord-tenant legislation. Included were three of MAHT’s priority bills. Two of these bills were proposals to lift the 1994 statewide ban on the municipal adoption of rent control and other forms of rent regulation (H.1378/S.886 and H.1440). The third was a Boston Home Rule Petition (HRP), written by MAHT, to reestablish rent caps in former governmentally involved subsidized housing developments in Boston (H.4229).
The Committee heard testimony from countless local housing justice organizations, tenant activists, small homeowners, and elected officials from across the state.
Several MAHT tenant leaders testified in support of our priority bills:
Conrad Csizek, resident of the formerly subsidized Burbank Apartments and member of the Burbank Tenants Association, who watched his own building in downtown Boston be converted to luxury condominiums, testified as part of a panel with the statewide Homes for All Massachusetts coalition on the importance of lifting the ban on rent control.
Forbes Building Tenants Association Steering Committee members Beatrice Greene, David Nollman, and Quentin Davis spoke in support of the HRP and lifting the ban on rent control. They discussed their own struggle to preserve the Forbes Building as affordable housing as it approaches the expiration of its subsidy contract this coming March. “Where will we go? Where will I go? What will happen to me? The thought is terrifying” stated Ms. Greene, describing the terror that she and her neighbors feel at the possibility of losing their apartments and community to massive rent increases.
Melissa Wardwell of the Babcock Towers Tenants Association testified in support of the HRP. If enacted, the HRP would provide critical protections to Babcock Tower residents, many of whom are currently under threat of displacement. Ms. Wardwell described how she and her neighbors are facing constant harassment from management, illegal eviction notices, and the possibility of rent increases up to $1,500/month upon the expiration of the building’s subsidy contract, set to take place this March. Many of the building’s predominantly senior residents have already left voluntarily, out of fear of eviction.
Additionally, several elected officials testified in favor of lifting the ban on rent control and allowing local governments to enact the housing policies that best address the needs of their communities. The Committee heard from politicians representing much of eastern Massachusetts, including city council members from Cambridge, Somerville, Medford, Waltham, Lawrence and Worcester; a member of the Malden School Board; the Select Board Vice Chair of Brookline; and State Senators and Representatives from Springfield, Boston and Randolph. The Boston City Council also came out in strong support for these priority bills; the Committee heard testimony from Liz Breadon, Kenzie Bok, Kendra Lara, Ricardo Arroyo, Lydia Edwards, Julia Mejia, Ruthzee Louijeune. The overwhelming support from elected officials, particularly local politicians, underscores the severity of the statewide housing crisis.
Support for lifting the ban on rent control came from a wide range of other advocates. A panel of Boston-based resident physicians from the Committee of Interns and Residents described the impossibility of tending to the physical health of their patients when so many face intense housing insecurity. A psychiatrist from Boston Healthcare for the Homeless explained that, contrary to common misconceptions, homelessness and housing insecurity most often lead to mental health and substance abuse challenges, not the reverse. Finally, several small landlords and property owners voiced support for lifting the ban on rent control, debunking claims that rent control would hurt their financial interests.
The January 11th hearing represents one huge step in the struggle to lift the ban on rent control and pass the HRP, to ensure that Massachusetts tenants can afford to live in the communities where they have roots. Stay tuned for more opportunities to lobby your representatives as these bills travel through the Statehouse in the coming months!