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Aiming to preserve certain affordable housing units, Boston council approves home rule petition

Boston City Councilor Kenzie Bok.
Boston City Councilor Kenzie Bok.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

The Boston City Council on Wednesday passed a home rule petition aimed at preserving and restoring certain affordable housing units and discouraging the conversions of such homes into market-rate condominiums.

The approval came over the objections of a city watchdog that has warned the proposal could hurt housing production and jeopardize existing affordable housing programs in the city.

The measure would apply to former or current federally subsidized housing with “expiring use” restrictions. Those restrictions refer to units whose affordability component has time limits under the agreed-upon contracts with government agencies, meaning the units could become market-rate at some point.

Under the proposal, city authorities would regulate the rent for the use and occupancy of units that are currently, or formerly, “governmentally involved,” according to council documents.

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The legislation would allow the city to create a mayor-designated board to establish a maximum rent for such units. The measure now heads to Acting Mayor Kim Janey’s desk and would also need State House approval before it can take effect.

Councilor Kenzie Bok, one of the proposal’s sponsors, said “the last thing we would want to do is go backwards” with the city facing an affordable housing crisis.

Councilor Matt O’Malley said the Forbes Building in Jamaica Plain has an “expiring use” restriction and that residents in the building’s 147 affordable units “are looking at potentially being thrown out.”

”That’s only going to exacerbate the housing crisis,” he said.

Councilors have proposed such an initiative multiple times in years past, but it has always died on Beacon Hill.

After Wednesday’s meeting, Councilor Michael Flaherty said the measure could preserve 922 units at the Forbes Building and Babcock Towers in Allston, both of which are under threat of becoming market-rate housing in the next year. O’Malley, said as many as 3,000 affordable units could be lost because of “expiring use” restrictions over the next few years.

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“It would be catastrophic for the city,” Flaherty said.

Earlier this month, the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, a city watchdog, opposed the proposal. The bureau said that applying a broad rent cap to income-restricted homes would discourage housing developers from working with the city to add affordable housing stock, among a number of other criticisms. The bureau also described the proposal as rent control, a label that multiple councilors rejected.

“This is not rent control,” Councilor Lydia Edwards said at Wednesday’s meeting. “This is housing stabilization.”


Danny McDonald can be reached at daniel.mcdonald@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Danny__McDonald.