Boston City Council defeats Rent Control

8-to-5 vote is thanks to SPOA


Tenants chanted in protest after the vote

Thanks to thousands of calls, emails and letters from small property owners, on December 8, 2004, the Boston City Council voted 8 to 5 against a proposed rent control petition sponsored by five City Councilors on behalf of the Boston Tenants Coalition and about 70 endorsing nonprofit organizations, many of them tax-funded “community development corporations.”
Voting against rent control were Council President Michael Flaherty and Councilors Maureen Feeney, John McDermott, James Kelly, Rob Consalvo, Stephen Murphy, Paul Scapicchio, and John Tobin. Voting for rent control were the proposal’s original sponsors: Councilors Felix Arroyo, Chuck Turner, Charles Yancey, Maureen Hennigan, and Michael Ross.

This vote was the second time the Council voted against rent control. Two years ago, the vote was 6 to 4 with three Councilors absent. Along with the Cambridge citywide referendum a year ago defeating a rent control initiative by a landslide 61%-to-39% vote, this latest Boston Council vote makes for a three-in-a-row repudiation of rent control in the two most liberal, usually most pro-tenant cities in the state.

Does the vote end further efforts to bring back rent control? Not likely. Activists plan to use the Council vote in upcoming elections.

Tenants chant

A split second after the Council’s dramatic 8-to-5 vote was announced, tenant activist Steve Meacham, formerly of Cambridge’s Eviction Free Zone and now with Jamaica Plain’s City Life/Vida Urbana, stood up and shouted out: “I protest. This vote is a disgrace. We will be back again. You are going to have to call security before I will be shut up.”
He continued haranguing the Councilors, who were forced to stop their formal proceedings for about 20 minutes, as some 40 tenants, mostly professional activists paid by tax dollars, took up a loud and lengthy chant: “Shame, shame, shame, etc.”

Police avoided arresting anyone and had been advised by the Council President Michael Flaherty to just maintain as much order as possible and let the chanting die down. The news media took photos which appeared in the early evening news, but not later.

Importance of local victory

It was important, as SPOA has emphasized, to defeat rent control at the local level. Even though it was clear that the State Legislature (which had to approve the petition before it could become law) would turn down the proposal, and it certainly would have been vetoed by Governor Mitt Romney, SPOA has always felt it was far too risky in the long run to allow rent control efforts to succeed locally and then keep depending on the Legislature or the Governor to reject rent control.

We had, therefore, to convince the voters in Cambridge and the voters who vote for City Councilors in Boston that rent control is bad – a change from most people’s viewpoint ten years ago when rent control was still an entrenched, politically volatile issue with its harsh burden borne by a tiny minority of rental property owners. And indeed we did convince the voters to change their minds!

Thus, three local victories against rent control is a huge accomplishment for SPOA, and only SPOA could have done it. Big landlords have no chance to appeal to ordinary small rental property owners, nor even to single-family homeowners and condominium owners who are a large voting segment and were critical to our success in all three victories In all three victories, SPOA sent mailings directly to all homeowners in Boston and Cambridge, explaining rent control’s likely impact on them if it were to be reinstated.

Property taxes won it

All the scholarly arguments about rent control – it destroys the housing stock, it stops all new construction, it does not benefit the poor, it gives cheap housing to the privileged – while true, were virtually useless in these campaigns. People don’t care about scholarly arguments. What convinced the voters was the harmful impact that rent control would have on a city’s property tax base, namely, reducing the value of rent-controlled properties and thus shifting the tax burden to non-controlled owners. SPOA repeated this argument over and over. With city and state tax revenues already a hot political issue, and with rising property assessments and tax rates, voters who otherwise would not be affected by rent control, once they realized how rent control would affect their tax bills, were in no mood to be asked to fork over yet more tax dollars to pay for the indirect but substantial impact of rent control on the tax base.

The pocketbook impact was convincing to the voters, but it required a major educational effort with the voters, specifically, SPOA’s numerous mailings directly to homeowners reminding them and explaining how rent control works to devalue and destroy the buildings it controls. So long as SPOA always has the financial resources to make these mailings, it appears we are safe from rent control in Massachusetts.

New attempts in 2005

Activists have already said they will make rent control the issue in upcoming elections in Boston. These are the mid-term election in April 2005 for two retiring state representatives (former Speaker of the House Thomas Finneran from Hyde Park, Mattapan and South Dorchester and Representative Brian Paul Golden from Allston and Brighton) and the regular election in November for Mayor and all City Councilors. Councilor Maureen Hennigan is expected to run for mayor against Thomas Menino, using rent control as part of her platform.

Thus, SPOA faces yet new challenges to educate Boston voters prior to these elections. (The tenant activists will be doing the same on their side.) We are not allowed to endorse candidates, but we can educate the voters on rent control and on the various actions and positions that all candidates have taken on rent control.

Political activity with tax money

SPOA intends to investigate some dozens of nonprofit organizations that endorsed the rent control proposal and also receive federal or state tax money, usually in the form of so-called “community development block grants.” Even if a limited amount of political activity is allowed, it is most definitely illegal for tax-funded organizations to endorse candidates or use tax money to work for candidates. Moreover, there is a very strong argument that rent control destroys communities, so these organizations are already misusing tax dollars in a manner inconsistent with their commitments when they accept tax dollars. The most dramatic cases are so-called “community development corporations,” and Boston is full of them.

We are preserving below our website material posted prior to the Boston City Council vote, so viewers can understand the issues as we presented them to the voters, and how we mobilized small property owners to call their Councilors.

Boston activists are trying again for rent control

Boston activists have filed another rent control petition at the Boston City Council, a slight variant on their proposals of exactly a year ago, and the year before that. Here we go again!

A hearing will be scheduled around mid-November. This hearing needs to be swamped with small property owners. And a City Council vote will take place about December 1. The Councilors need to be swamped with messages from small property owners.

To fight this new Boston rent control initiative, do two things right now:

  • Join SPOA’s email list to receive latest developments: Click here to join email list
  • Call write or email your district Boston City Councilor and all three Councilors-At-Large.  Click here for their contact info.

What they want

The new Boston proposal is the same old hash warmed over and renamed. First it was “rent control,” then “rent stabilization.” Now it’s “community stabilization”! The proposal’s full title: “Boston Community Stabilization Act: Protections for Tenants and Small Property Owners.”

That title is a hypocritical lie. It’s rent control pure and simple. But they don’t have the guts to call it “rent control” any more, and they try to look like they are even helping us small property owners (ho! ho!).

At the heart of the proposal, however, is rent control, as bad as ever: You can raise the rent no more than 5% a year for low- and moderate-income tenants, and no more than 10% for all others. If you raise the rent higher, your tenant can “grieve” your rent increase, forcing YOU to go to the rent board to justify any and all rent increases. We all know how THAT works.

They are wolves in sheep’s clothing. They start by saying how lenient this new rent control proposal is compared to past proposals. It exempts a few more owners from rent and eviction regulations. It no longer has that 20% rent cap when new tenants move in. It still has “just cause” evictions, but now you don’t have to go through TWO agencies to get an eviction, just one. And it has a new “sunset” clause – it supposedly will end in 10 years unless the Council decides a housing emergency still exists in 2014.

Fight complacency!

When Question 9 passed in 1994 and abolished rent control in Massachusetts, many thought rent control was gone forever. We could relax, run our businesses, and update our properties into the 21st century. We became busy – and complacent!!

Last year that complacency was shattered for many when the Eviction Free Zone in Cambridge collected enough signatures to put a bring-back-rent-control referendum on the city’s November ballot. SPOA fought hard and Cambridge voters defeated it – by a whopping 61%-to-39% vote.

Once again, that landslide vote against rent control from the People’s Republic of Cambridge looked like rent control was really gone. Once again, many became complacent.

In fact, SPOA has always warned small property owners against complacency. At this present moment, no rent control law is on the books. But the socialized housing advocates have not gone away. They are still here, making mischief. Every year since 1994, they have made attempts to get rent control back. Expiring-use rent control. “Back door” rent control through condominium conversion regulation. Mayor Menino’s 2002 rent control proposal defeated by the Boston City Council. The EFZ’s defeated 2003 Cambridge referendum. And now in 2004 the latest attempt coming up in Boston.

SPOA has defeated ALL of these attempts so far. And with your support, we will do it again! We cannot be complacent. We cannot rely on the State Legislature to turn down any request for rent control from the Boston City Council. We need to mobilize all property owners in Boston and get them to tell their City Councilors to vote NO on rent control. SPOA must remain a strong organization – always!

Stopping it

We all know that the alleged new leniencies are piddling side issues, and all easily reversed. We know all too well how a five-year rent control law turned into permanent rent control. We know all too well how a law starts out limited and ends up 300 pages long, covering everything from what rent you charge, what repairs you can do to your property, to whether or not you can live in your own property. Once the socialized housing advocates get their foot in the door, they will push it wide open, walk in, and completely take away our property rights.

We must fight once again, and fight hard!

  • Join our email list: Click here.
  • Join SPOA if you are not already a member. Click here.
  • Attend the mid-November hearing. Watch for announcements.
  • Write, call or email the Boston City Councilors as often as you can: Click here.

Thank you for your unwavering support!

Lenore Monello Schloming, SPOA president

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