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Healey says rent control is not ‘the solution’ to state’s housing crisis

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey.Steven Senne/Associated Press

Attorney General Maura Healey said Friday in a radio interview she does not support reestablishing rent control as a “solution” for the high housing costs in Massachusetts, where progressive Democrats, including Boston’s mayor, have pushed for forms of it.

But almost immediately, Healey’s gubernatorial campaign sought to refashion the meaning of her comments, saying she doesn’t support “requiring” rent control statewide but is open to allowing individual towns and cities to pursue their own policies.

Asked on GBH’s “Boston Public Radio” Friday morning whether she would sign a “rent control bill” if she was elected governor, Healey said, “I don’t think that’s the solution.”

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“I’m a big believer in making sure that those needing rental assistance have support. But I think the way you get there, the overall picture, it’s not through rent stabilization,” Healey said. “It’s through the production of more housing.”

Massachusetts voters banned rent control in the state through a ballot measure in 1994, meaning any local efforts to enact new measures would require approval by the Legislature and governor. It’s repeatedly emerged in recent years on Beacon Hill and City Hall, where Mayor Michelle Wu made the pursuit of rent control — or what she calls rent stabilization — a key plank of her successful campaign last year.

State Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz, Healey’s gubernatorial primary opponent, has backed allowing the option for rent control on the local level. The Jamaica Plain Democrat has said she would support giving individual towns and cities the option “of establishing reasonable caps on annual rent increases,” such as tying increases to the cost of living.

She also testified in January in support of a bill that would give towns and cities the local option to control rent prices, saying she backs “removing the ban on rent stabilization.” As of Friday, the bill remained bottled up in a legislative committee.

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“We need all the tools we can get to combating our housing crisis,” Chang-Díaz wrote on Twitter on Friday in reaction to Healey’s initial comments. “Local option rent stabilization is an important tool at our disposal here — we need to come into the 21st century and allow cities and towns this flexibility. When I’m Governor, I *will* sign a bill to allow it.”

Shortly after the interview, Healey’s gubernatorial campaign said she is open to signing legislation that allows individual communities to pursue their own rent control measures.

“Maura supports the right of communities to implement their own policies on rent stabilization,” Karissa Hand, a campaign spokeswoman, said in a statement.

“She does not believe that a blanket statewide policy requiring rent control is the solution to our housing affordability crisis,” Hand added.

Lawmakers and advocates, however, have not seriously discussed an option to require rent control. Instead, they have pressed for changing the 28-year-old voter-backed law.

Healey said Friday that creating more housing across the state is crucial to helping make Massachusetts a more attractive place to live and help those struggling to keep pace in the current housing market.

She said she supports “relaxing some of the zoning laws” to make it easier to build more housing, and create what she called transit-oriented housing, such as building more around MBTA stations.

State legislation passed last year mandates new multifamily zones in 175 cities and towns serviced by the MBTA, though its implementation has drawn pushback from dozens of communities.

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Governor Charlie Baker has indicated he opposes rent control. He said in an October radio interview he would “probably not” sign a law allowing for rent control options should one reach his desk, though he would “leave the door open a little bit.”

As housing and rent prices have soared in Greater Boston and beyond, some Democrats have argued that allowing for rent control could help rein in costs.

Wu in March announced she was forming a Rent Stabilization Advisory Committee to study “local housing conditions” and rent control measures in other cities.

Wu said the 23-person committee will meet throughout this year with the goal of helping produce a proposal for the next state legislative session, which begins in January. Formal lawmaking for the Legislature’s current session is slated to end on July 31.

Tim Logan of the Globe staff contributed to this report.


Matt Stout can be reached at matt.stout@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @mattpstout.