Massachusetts voters will not see a question about ending the state’s three-decade ban on rent control when they head to the polls next November.
State Representative Mike Connolly, a Cambridge Democrat, announced late Friday he is suspending his campaign to gather 75,000 signatures to put a question on the ballot that would aim to lift the 1994 law that bans rent control in Massachusetts. Connolly’s campaign has acquired 10,175 signatures since September, and needed to gather at least 64,399 more ahead of a Nov. 22 deadline to keep moving forward.
Connolly on Saturday said he was “proud of the work we did with the resources we had.”
“As far as I’m concerned, every signature is a meaningful act,” he said. “It’s an opportunity to engage with a voting member of the public, and have a conversation with them about tenant protections and the housing emergency.”
Connolly’s campaign notably did not have support of prominent progressive housing organizations that have long advocated for stronger tenant protections. Housing justice coalition Homes for All Massachusetts, for one, in September expressed concerns over Connolly’s “unilateral decision to move forward on a 2024 ballot question against the wishes of movement leaders, and without collaborating with the statewide anti-eviction and anti-foreclosure coalition” and called on Connolly to drop the effort.
Boston Mayor Michelle Wu, the most prominent Massachusetts elected official to back rent control, had also stayed mum on the ballot measure.
Any successful rent control campaign will require big investment against coordinated opposition from a well-funded real estate industry that has pledged to spend tens of millions to defeat it. But in presidential election years, national fund-raising efforts tend to be focused on battleground states and not local initiatives, political operators say.
Carolyn Chou, the director of Homes for All Massachusetts, said Saturday that her coalition still supports rent control efforts statewide, either through legislation or with a ballot initiative after 2024.
“We are committed to winning rent control in the next few years,” Chou said. “To us, that means continuing to put the legislative strategy through this session, and if needed, next session — and if we can’t win at the Legislature this time, to have the ballot initiative as part of that strategy.”
The Legislature’s Joint Committee on Housing on Tuesday will hold a daylong hearing on multiple housing petitions, including two bills crafted by Homes for All Massachusetts that would give cities and towns the option to cap rent increases and to bar evictions without cause. The joint committee is also set to hear Wu’s home-rule petition that would cap rent increases in Boston at 10 percent annually in high-inflation years and a rent-control petition sponsored by Connolly.
The region’s real estate industry and other business groups have been wholly united in their opposition to rent control, contending such policies ultimately hinder housing production by encouraging developers and the firms financing their projects to redirect investments to places without such restrictions.
“Rent control will not address our housing crisis,” said Tamara Small, CEO of commercial real estate group NAIOP Massachusetts, in a statement. “NAIOP looks forward to continuing our work with the Healey-Driscoll Administration and the Legislature to advance production-based solutions that will actually ensure housing access for every resident in our Commonwealth”
The Greater Boston Real Estate Board — which earlier this year launched a $400,000 voter campaign opposing Wu’s home-rule petition in Boston — on Saturday cheered the suspension of Connolly’s campaign.
“We are pleased the push for a ballot initiative on rent control has come to an end,” said Greg Vasil, CEO of GBREB, in a statement. “As we have said all along, rent control is not the answer to the housing crisis. It is time for everyone to come together on a pro-growth strategy that cuts red tape and makes it easier to build housing for all income levels.”
On Tuesday, beyond the Legislative hearing, Somerville’s City Council will also host a committee hearing on that city’s rent control home-rule petition. Connolly said he would “wholeheartedly” support efforts to enact rent control locally.
“It’s incumbent upon the Legislature to act on this issue,” he said.