Full vote in regular council meeting Dec. 14
Somerville is joining Brookline and Boston in filing a home rule petition to enact local rent stabilization. The City’s Legislative Matters Committee voted unanimously last Tuesday to approve the petition, before it goes to a final vote on Thursday, December 14. Provided the full council’s approval, it’s off to Beacon Hill. The petition marks a step forward for rent stabilization in Somerville, just weeks after Representative Mike Connolly’s petition to place rent control on the state ballot this year fell short of the required signatures.
“We are facing a regional housing crisis, and we all know that losing stable housing completely upends people’s lives and that of their children. Our duty here is clear. We must use every available tool to help keep residents in their homes. Rent stabilization works, so we are pursuing it thoughtfully with our whole community in mind,” said Somerville Mayor Katjana Ballantyne in a statement November 9. “This careful proposal not only provides needed action to support renters and housing affordability overall but also meaningful considerations for vulnerable property owners such as owner-occupant seniors.”
The petition would place a yearly cap on rent increases limited to the rate of inflation plus 2%, totaling no more than 5 percent in any year. The petition includes a mechanism for owners to request additional increases based on “extraordinary expenses.”
Asked whether the home rule petition’s approval has reignited optimism for the cause, City Council Ben Ewen-Campen said he “was not born yesterday,” acknowledging the uphill battle the petition faces on Beacon Hill, but called the petition “a historic moment.”
“For the last thirty years, rent stabilization has been a third rail that a lot of elected officials are scared to mention. It’s incredibly motivating that we now have multiple cities sending home rule petitions to Beacon Hill,” Ewen- Campen said.
Since Massachusetts banned it in 1994, any form of rent control has remained a contested issue. Renters want protection from economic volatility, but developers argue it would stagnate production. Thus far, the state Legislature has displayed little interest in any related policy.
Massachusetts Governor Maura Healey, however, has voiced support for a local option. The Governor told NBC 10 last month that it should be “the right of any community to make that assessment and decision for itself.” But Healey has cautioned it’s a tool and not a solution to the state’s housing crisis.
Meanwhile, public support for rent stabilization is strong. 2023 surveys by Northwind Strategies and UMass Amherst showed 65 percent and 71 percent of voters, respectively, would support rent control legislation.
Despite general support for legislation, organizers have not unified on a path forward. Rep. Connolly’s campaign to place rent stabilization on the 2024 ballot fell through after the Homes For All coalition, which includes City Life/Vida Urbana, Lynn United, SEIU, and Field First, made public statements calling off the campaign, arguing they needed more time to organize.
“The economy, especially for renters, is so severe, so egregious and unprecedented. I have to remain hopeful that in the time that remains, we can build consensus and move something forward,” Connolly said.
Ewen-Campen, who helped organize the ballot campaign, echoed Connolly’s call for unity. “Passing a state law is a major undertaking and there’s no shortcut for it. We’re all going to need to be on the same team to get this done. Even when there’s differences of opinion, we are all on the same team.”
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Ryan DiLello is the staff reporter for the Somerville Wire