Boston Mayor Wu: Some Critics Of City Rent Plan Are 'Fearmongering'

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BOSTON (State House News Service) — Boston Mayor Michelle Wu pushed back Monday as resistance to her rent control plan picks up, arguing that what she has proposed is different from rent control policies of years past and describing some of the opposition as "fearmongering."

Wu filed a multi-faceted rent control revival measure with the Boston City Council earlier this month to, in part, cap rent increases across the city at a maximum of 10 percent in high-inflation years. The mayor's push for a home rule petition that would allow the city to limit how much landlords can increase rent on returning tenants each year is still working its way through the Boston City Council but would also need approval of the state Legislature and Gov. Maura Healey to take effect.

Opposition to the idea has been building in the last week. The Greater Boston Real Estate Board last week launched a $400,000 campaign against the measure saying it would stunt the development of new units in the city and the organization's CEO wrote an op-ed in the Boston Globe on Monday arguing that the mayor's proposal would have the effect of "increasing bureaucratic barriers, discouraging investment, and ultimately worsening the region's housing crisis by reducing production."

And on Monday, the MassLandlords trade association announced that it filed a lawsuit in Superior Court to get the city to turn over emails and other documents related to the Rent Stabilization Advisory Committee that was part of the development of Wu's proposal.

The mayor was asked about the MassLandlords lawsuit Monday morning on WBUR's "Radio Boston" and said she fully stands behind the process that went into the plan's development.

"We know that many of the special interest groups who might be either listening to fearmongering or practicing fearmongering here really are just trying to stop a policy that that people are scared of," the mayor said. "I just want to remind these groups and everyone that it's important to just start from the same place of facts and what we're actually proposing and talking about. We know that the economic situation is uncertain right now. We know that there are burdens on families of all kinds -- renters and landlords, especially our smaller property owners. We have taken care to put the specific provisions in the nuanced details that would address the concern and give the protections for specific groups that might be impacted otherwise."

Wu described some of the exemptions for smaller properties that are owner-occupied and new construction, but host Tiziana Dearing pushed back and asked Wu why concerns from property owners concerned about their own long-term viability and profitability amounts to fearmongering. Wu suggested that many of the opponents are "drawing the analogy" to rent control policies of the past rather than looking at the specifics of what she has proposed.

"Whether it's a group that is trying to put a lawsuit forward to just add more news and make sure that there's as much potential delay in the process as possible, to others who are putting money behind an effort to put a message out there that this is taking us backwards, or assert that City Hall can't do math or this or that -- this is a different proposal that we're putting forward now compared to what used to exist in Massachusetts and in many places decades ago, or even in some of the cities that are being brought up as examples of what to avoid," Wu said. The mayor added, "So this is one piece of what we are going to...we won't stop and we will refuse to back down from pushing for every possible change for housing affordability. This is the one issue that is threatening our economy and our families most."

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If the city council and Wu pass the rent control measure on to the state, the Legislature would then have to approve the policy. Top Democrats in the House and Senate have not signaled that the idea is on their priority lists, but if it does pass it would then be sent along to Healey.

Though Healey has not spoken out against rent control in the same way that former Gov. Charlie Baker did, she also has not made clear whether she would sign a measure allowing Boston to revive its own local policy despite a statewide ban. During discussion of another topic Monday on WBUR, Wu shed some light on the relationship she has with the governor.

"Our teams are in constant, constant communication. We are most often in text communication, I would say, but just a check-in here and there and then we get together when there are issues to discuss," Wu said. "I found her and her team to be incredibly responsive and knowledgeable about the city's needs."

Written by Colin Young/SHNS.

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