Like cities all through the Boston region Somerville has seen the price of housing skyrocket. In order to stem the tide we’ve increased developer fees, increased the percentage of affordable units in new projects, established an Office of Housing Stability, approved a transfer fee on real estate speculation, regulated short-term rentals and added renter protections to our condo conversion ordinance. We’ve also built 438 new affordable units since 2010 with more than 300 in the pipeline.
Yet it’s not enough to rein in runaway housing costs.
That’s why I’m putting my full support behind legislation at the State House that would enable cities and towns to adopt local rent stabilization. I want to be clear, I’m not talking about the 20th century form of rent control that caused neighborhoods to deteriorate by making it impossible for property owners to recoup their investments. I’m talking about a 21st century rent stabilization that gives cost certainty to both renters and small property owners.
People need immediate help. Mind you, rent stabilization by itself will not solve the overall affordability problem. That will require bold changes to state and local zoning that allow us to build the housing units our region needs. Yet that takes time, and people who are getting displaced by the crushing weight of housing costs don’t have the luxury to wait. People and families who rent need help today. Rent stabilization will help more people stay in their homes while we fix a broken system.
That’s why I’m supporting the tenant protections bill on Beacon Hill, co-sponsored by Somerville’s entire delegation. I’m not stopping there. I’m going to lobby leaders from cities and towns all across the state to support this proposal. We need to have the option of adopting rent stabilization to maintain the fabric of our communities. Local leaders can send the message to the state that we are ready, willing and able to take action.
We see the effects of this housing emergency up close at the local level. That’s why we have to take the lead on this. I’ve had people knock on my door to tell me about how rising rent is driving them from their homes. We all know the current system is hurting people. I intend to bring everyone to the table on this to provide stability for those caught up in this chaos.
Together we can keep increases reasonable, we can stop predatory rent hikes and we can do this while respecting the investments of small property owners. There is a fairer way, a better way for people to live in this community. I plan to have Somerville get to work on this now so we’ll have smart, fair rent stabilization that works for all ready to go as soon as Beacon Hill gives us the green light.
In short, I’m supporting rent stabilization because it is the only way to help whole neighborhoods before it’s too late. Somerville is going to put together a local rent stabilization plan in anticipation of Beacon Hill taking action so that we can be first in the state to implement it. We do not have any time to waste. We have a housing emergency on our hands, and we must take action.
I hope you’ll join me in supporting this vitally needed step to rein in housing costs.