Real estate industry balks. But the moral question is: How much profit is enough?
Jeff Jacoby laid out the standard real estate industry argument against rent control in his column “As any economist can tell Mayor Wu, rent control never works” (Ideas, Jan. 29).
The day before, 300 people crammed in front of the State House steps to demand passage of rent control. Speaker after speaker rose to tell of outrageous rent increases or mass evictions and building clear-outs. They spoke to the extreme stress and health impacts of the constant danger of no-fault evictions.
These speakers addressed a more basic economics than did Jacoby. They posed a moral question: “How much profit is enough?” Rampant real estate speculation is a moral issue. Real estate investors buy buildings with a business plan that requires mass evictions and rent increases in order to make maximum profit. Those business plans don’t represent what investors “need”; they represent what investors hope to make by driving people out of their homes.
What is fueling the resistance to displacement and the drive for rent control? It is the daily experience of housing insecurity and the uprooting of entire neighborhoods, especially communities of color. It is the lived experience of working hard and paying taxes to improve neighborhoods only to have those improvements displace the very people who worked for them.
City Life/Vida Urbana
Landlords pushed to outlaw rent control decades ago. Rents have skyrocketed since.
One of the objections to rent control is that it discourages new construction. Under that argument, we would have expected to see lots of new affordable rental units in the nearly 30 years since landlords organized a statewide referendum to outlaw rent control. During that time there has been much construction of luxury housing, gentrification, and skyrocketing rents particularly in the three formerly rent-controlled municipalities, Boston, Brookline, and Cambridge. Yet there has been nowhere near the construction of needed affordable housing. It seems that rent control has little to do with discouraging the construction of affordable housing.
Patricia Cantor Petrucelly
The writer, a retired attorney, was general counsel to the Cambridge Rent Control Board from 1983 to 1995.
Think big, mayor. Student housing is an outrage.
Rational rent control policies — much like smooth city streets, functional road signage and pavement markings, or a competent transportation system — are but a pipe dream in the Boston metro area, and Mayor Michelle Wu has yet to make significant headway on the many dreamlike policies she proposed as a candidate.
As Catherine Carlock and Emma Platoff’s recent front-page story notes (“Wu floats proposal for rent control,” Jan. 19), a rent control policy modeled on the existing versions in California and elsewhere contains exemptions for landlords and buildings that meet certain criteria. I think these exemptions will be more widespread than anyone in Wu’s camp might lead us to believe; indeed, “small owner-occupied properties” are the backbone of Boston’s horrendous lack of subsidized student housing. As a recent graduate of an advanced-degree program, I find it unconscionable that tuition at Boston’s higher-education institutions continues to climb while housing standards have barely improved.
Even then, is a monthly rent increase capped around $300 for a lease originating at $3,000 anywhere near manageable (or sensible) for apartments that are in deplorable condition but, because of their location, nonetheless in high demand?
Until we see a policy that eschews the desperate need to placate wealthy building owners and unresponsive landlords and instead advocates for significantly more affordable rents and minimal increases, young professionals and many born-and-bred Bostonians will continue to move out of this breathtakingly expensive state.
Jamie Evan Bichelman
This well-intended policy is misguided and open to abuse
Residential rents have become high in Boston and cities around the country. However, we need to be careful with rent control.
Rent control is a well-intended policy, and we have decades of experience with it. Unfortunately, virtually all economists agree that rent control only exacerbates the problem of high rents. Many of us remember notorious rent control abuses when cities experimented with this misguided policy in the 1970s. It did not encourage new housing supply; rather, it stifled it.
If we want to solve the underlying problem, we need to deal with the cause: The demand for housing has outstripped supply. As reported in the Globe last month, Boston has record-high vacancy rates in commercial real estate as a result of the trend in hybrid work and the slowdown in technology. Some of this space could be repurposed to residential housing. Mayor Michelle Wu should provide incentives to landlords to convert these properties to residential housing. Rent control should be a last resort for those who really need it.
Cranes dot the landscape, but question is, who does all this development serve?
In the Jan. 19 edition of the Globe, there was the front-page story “Wu floats proposal for rent control,” a response to the fact that much of Boston’s population is priced out of housing, and on the front of the Business section there was Jon Chesto’s column about business leaders lobbying to make the city more competitive for new businesses to move here (“Business community has a big ask of new governor: Tackle taxes”). These two articles are connected.
We are working at cross-purposes. We have cranes all over the skyline putting up new multifamily buildings. Yet the new construction never catches up with the demand. The demand keeps rising because Boston is such an attractive place for many new businesses and probably an essential place for any company in bioscience. It would be great if we could figure out how to balance these interests.
There are a lot of other cities that don’t have this “problem.” They can’t attract much business, and a large part of their housing is vacant or deteriorating. Not us. We have these choices. To what extent do we want our population to keep on growing? Is it possible that we might want it to grow more slowly so that the housing supply can catch up? And then there are the bigger questions: How big do we want to be? And which segments of the population do we want to serve, if not all of them?
Rent control in Boston — about as likely as a Nobel Peace Prize for Putin
Mayor Michelle Wu has courageously stepped forward in her initiative for rent control, as she promised to do. Much to the good fortune of Boston, the mayor is singularly competent, has the benefit of a superb formal education, is the very model of integrity and dedication to her constituents, and is immensely popular.
So it is regrettable that her plan for rent control will go nowhere.
She has about as much chance of getting this done as Vladimir Putin does of receiving the Nobel Peace Prize. Already real estate and property interests are threatening, warning that rent control will dampen investment and keep them from developing more (unaffordable) housing at a time when the housing market is in crisis. Meanwhile, luxury condos continue to metastasize, despoiling the landscape with architecture that could be best described as modern rabbit hutch revival.
When private interests overcome those of the citizenry, it is incumbent on government leaders to intervene: to compel rather than cajole, to restrict rather than ransom, to provide constituents with the same protection from economic harm that they do against physical harm in their role as oversight of law enforcement.
Wu’s effort is admirable precisely because she is so different from so many politicians, but I’m afraid it will fail. If her proposal ever gets to the Legislature, it will be just another confirmation of Bernie Sanders’s insight that government does not regulate business; business regulates government.
Joseph R. Noone