One state senator, a real estate attorney, owns at least $42 million worth of properties, including a condo in Boston’s Back Bay and dozens of apartments in the Merrimack Valley. Lawmakers from Quincy and West Springfield each own 14 rental units apiece. And a Methuen Democrat has so much real estate — at least 25 properties, records show — that when the Globe asked for a tally, he struggled.
“I don’t keep count,” state Representative Francisco E. Paulino said.
These wealthy property owners are just a sampling of a Legislature that is overwhelmingly insulated from the worst of the state’s housing crisis. A Globe investigation of the entire Massachusetts House and Senate, including a survey and a review of thousands of pages of property records and ethics disclosures, found that at least 86 percent of the 200-seat Legislature owns homes, compared with just 61 percent of the state.
More than one of four state legislators also own multiple units or properties, putting them further out of step with constituents beleaguered by the cost and scarcity of homes.
As the Democrat-dominated Legislature mulls a slate of proposals aimed at addressing the housing crisis, including tenant protections, the body includes more lawmakers who could lose income from the return of rent control than lawmakers who would benefit from its protections, the Globe found. At least 36 legislators own commercial, residential, or short-term rental properties, while just 19 told the Globe they are renters.
In Boston, the disparity is even more stark: The city’s homeownership rate is just 35 percent, yet at least 16 of the city’s 20 state lawmakers — 80 percent — are homeowners themselves, the Globe found; four also own rental properties. Just two, state representatives Chynah Tyler and Sam Montaño, confirmed to the Globe they rent their homes.
Massachusetts law doesn’t bar legislators from voting on general legislation or home rule petitions that could impact them financially, though they may be required to file an ethics disclosure. Figures compiled by the Globe suggest that dozens of legislators may have a conflict on major housing policy proposals as they weigh their own financial interests alongside the needs of their constituents. A top-down government body that often moves at a plodding pace even on pressing issues, the Legislature has sometimes been a place where major housing policy proposals go to die.
Meanwhile, the needs are enormous. Evictions are on the rise; family shelters are brimming, forcing officials to house hundreds in hotels; and first-time homeownership is edging farther out of reach for all but the state’s most affluent residents. And yet, in the fourth month of its legislative session, the Legislature has yet to move a major piece of housing legislation, and its housing committee has convened just a single hearing, lasting all of six minutes.
Not that the Legislature has been entirely moribund on housing matters in recent years. In 2021, it has passed significant changes to help spur housing near public transit, and to make it easier to pass zoning changes on a local level. But while legislative leaders continue to call housing a major problem, it’s not clear whether there is political will to do more.
“It just seems, right now, very uncertain if we’re going to take any major action,” said state Senator Jamie Eldridge, a Democrat and renter who last year moved from Acton to Marlborough in search of cheaper housing. “If we go through a session and there is no major action on housing at a time when a lot of elected officials are talking about it, that will be a major failure.”
The legislator-landlords come from both political parties and live in every region of the state. It is a group that includes some of the Legislature’s most powerful leaders, including those who function as the primary gatekeepers on housing legislation.
State Representative Aaron Michlewitz, the chairman of the powerful House budget committee, owns two rental properties in Boston, where Mayor Michelle Wu wants to enact rent control but needs the Legislature’s approval.
The two Senate chairs on the Legislature’s joint housing committee, Lydia Edwards and John F. Keenan, are also landlords — Keenan owns 14 rental units in Quincy and Edwards owns a Boston triple-decker and a Chelsea condo.
About a quarter of state senators own rental units. Several other lawmakers are also involved in the real estate industry, whose lobbyists have vociferously opposed the return of rent control, pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into efforts to defeat it.
Several lawmakers’ holdings are substantial. Paulino, a Methuen Democrat, owns $5.8 million worth of properties in three different communities, including 20 units in a single building in Lawrence, property records show. In an interview, Paulino declined to take a position on rent control but said he rents all the apartments below market rate.
Senator Barry R. Finegold, an Andover Democrat and real estate attorney, owns more than 50 properties — either personally or through his business, and mostly through a series of limited liability companies and trusts — that are collectively assessed at more than $42 million, according to a Globe analysis of property records. They include more than 30 apartments in Haverhill, 16 commercial and residential properties in Andover, five apartment buildings in Lowell, and a $1 million condominium in Boston’s Back Bay.
Finegold is the founder and managing partner of the firm Dalton & Finegold, which specializes in residential and commercial real estate with a practice, according to its website, in the “niche area of condominium development.” His chief of staff is the son of Larry Curtis, a prominent Boston developer and president of WinnDevelopment.
Finegold declined an interview request, saying in a brief statement that he has owned “multiple” properties for more than two decades. He did not answer questions about his stance on specific housing policies or comment on whether his professional circumstances influence his views.
Polling shows rent control is popular across the state. But the makeup of the Legislature gives supporters of the practice little optimism.
“This is not only unfair, it’s wrong,” Ronel Remy, an organizer with the advocacy group City Life/Vida Urbana, said of the Legislature’s heavy skew toward homeowners and landlords. “We’re asking them to actually vote on the will of the people. Most likely they’re going to vote for their pockets, their own interests.”
In interviews with the Globe, several legislators insisted their work as landlords is not the sole factor that determines their stance on rent control. In fact, some argued, it’s an advantage to be intimately familiar with the industry, including the challenges facing tenants. And some said they support rent control.
Edwards, an East Boston Democrat, said she is “not quite ready to say” whether she supports Boston’s proposal to cap annual rent increases, which passed the City Council last month but cannot go into effect without state approval. But she does not come to the debate as just a landlord, she said.
“I’m voting as a policy maker. I’m never not a homeowner, I’m never not Black, I’m never not a woman,” Edwards said. “I’m voting as all of those things all at once.”
Others were candid about their opposition to the policy, and acknowledged that owning rental units informs their views.
“If we cap the potential revenue, it literally makes it so small landlords, like myself, would have a hard time continuing in real estate as a side business,” said state Representative Michael J. Finn, a West Springfield Democrat who owns 14 rental units. “I don’t think it’s a good idea.”
Housing — or the lack of it — is one of the state’s most pressing challenges, touching everyone from tenants displaced from their neighborhoods, to young families struggling to buy their first homes, to seniors unable to keep up with rising property taxes.
It is a top priority for Governor Maura Healey, who rents an apartment in Cambridge, and Lieutenant Governor Kim Driscoll, who owns a home in Salem and also rents out a multifamily property there. And, to be sure, the Legislature has made major strides in recent years.
It passed a historic law requiring communities served by the MBTA to zone for multifamily housing, poured hundreds of millions of dollars in federal COVID aid into housing programs, and, just recently in the House, pushed to make permanent a pandemic-era eviction protection for tenants who have applied for rental assistance.
Those are laudable steps, and don’t “necessarily reflect” the legislators’ own experience with housing, said Rachel Heller, CEO of the nonprofit Citizens’ Housing and Planning Association. Still, she said, “people are hurting, now. People need homes now.”
“We always need more, now,” she added. “I wish things could move so much faster.”
The Legislature is known for its glacial pace. It took six weeks just to assign lawmakers to committees; at the start of April, some were still moving into their offices. The legislative process is deliberate by design, but the state has missed the deadline for passing a budget every year for the last decade. The Legislature’s formal session lasts 19 months, but some of its most impactful work is invariably done during the final few hours of the last day; this past year, lawmakers wrapped up business 10 hours after the session was supposed to end, and even then, some major policy proposals were left unfinished.
Because archaic Massachusetts law prevents cities and towns from acting on their own on many important matters, the Legislature’s pace limits local efforts to solve the housing crisis, too.
A strong majority of the Boston City Council — and, according to polling, more than three-quarters of Boston voters — support bringing rent control back to the city, as Wu proposes. And rent control is gaining momentum among elected officials in Somerville, Cambridge, and New Bedford, too. But powerful legislative leaders have already signaled they are deeply skeptical of the policy, and political insiders expect it to die on Beacon Hill.
The last time the Massachusetts House voted on a rent control measure, in 2020, it was defeated, 136–23. The lawmaker who forced the vote was a renter, state Representative Mike Connolly of Cambridge; nearly all the current landlord-legislators who were serving at the time voted against it. The two exceptions, Russell E. Holmes and Kevin G. Honan, both represent Boston.
In Nantucket, and other pricey vacation destinations where service workers are struggling to find reasonable rents amid the multimillion-dollar vacation homes, local leaders have been fighting for more than a decade for a new way to fund affordable housing. Many are seeking state permission for a local transfer tax that would skim a small percentage from major real estate sales in order to fund affordable housing; Boston, Somerville, and Brookline have pitched similar proposals.
The Legislature has not even voted on a transfer tax proposal since 2020, when the House rejected one version by a 130–29 margin. But the growing drumbeat on that and other proposals may prove hard to ignore.
“In my experience with elected officials, the thing that is most important to them is reelection,” said Dan O’Connell, a former state secretary of economic development who is helping push the transfer tax proposal on the islands. “For that, you need to reflect the hopes and dreams and needs of your constituents.”
So far, though, legislative leaders have shown little appetite for either proposal.
House Speaker Ronald Mariano and Senate President Karen E. Spilka, homeowners in Quincy and Ashland, respectively, have not taken positions on rent control and the transfer tax proposals, though Mariano said earlier this year he has “questions” about rent control.
To assemble this report, the Globe asked all 198 current members of the Legislature about their real estate holdings. Most responded, but about 30 resisted saying anything at all, in some cases dodging half a dozen or more attempts to reach them in person and via e-mail, text message, office phone, and staff contacts.
Details, such as addresses, are often redacted from public copies of their mandated financial disclosures, many of which only currently cover through the end of 2021. Public officials are asked to disclose only properties they own inside the state, leaving constituents no way of knowing about the vacation homes they may own in Florida, say, or elsewhere in New England. In dozens of cases when legislators didn’t respond, the Globe confirmed that they were homeowners through assessor or deeds records.
Two Democratic state representatives, Estela A. Reyes of Lawrence and Dawne Shand of Newburyport, abruptly ended phone calls with a Globe reporter asking about their property holdings and stance on rent control.
Others demurred. “I really don’t think my situation is that pertinent here,” said state Representative Mary S. Keefe, a Worcester Democrat who owns two properties in Worcester and Sutton, according to property records.
Property records show state Representative Frank A. Moran, a member of Mariano’s leadership team and a Lawrence Democrat, owns at least two properties in that city, where he runs a realty group. Representative Angelo L. D’Emilia, a Bridgewater Republican, owns at least eight properties in his hometown, records show. And Representative Paul McMurtry, a Dedham Democrat, owns a half-dozen properties in Dedham and Roslindale that are collectively assessed at more than $4.5 million, records show.
None responded to multiple calls, e-mails, or messages left at their offices in recent weeks.
About two dozen lawmakers did not report owning property. A handful told the Globe they live with family, and neither rent nor own.
But several legislators who are renters said their experiences directly shaped their view of the crisis.
Senator Adam Gomez, who supports rent control, said he and his wife were once forced to live in shelters when they couldn’t afford housing. They were caring for two children, and because they weren’t yet married, they had to stay in separate shelters.
“It was an extremely challenging time,” the Springfield Democrat said.
Last year, Eldridge had to move from the apartment he rented in Acton for a decade because his landlord planned to renovate. He ultimately landed in Marlborough — “There are more affordable rents there,” he said — and later learned the rent on his previous apartment had since doubled. It’s the type of scenario rent control, which Eldridge supports, is designed to prevent.
There is “no doubt” that owning a home shapes his colleagues’ view of the housing crisis, just as renting shapes his, he said.
“The personal,” Eldridge said, “is the political.”