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Somerville City Council unanimously approves home rule petition for local rent stabilization

The measure will now head to the state Legislature

Somerville City Hall.City of Somerville

Efforts to slow rent increases in Somerville took a step forward last week after the City Council unanimously backed sending a proposed rent stabilization home rule petition to the state Legislature.

The measure, if eventually approved by lawmakers, would allow the city to impose a yearly cap on rent increases limited to the rate of inflation, plus 2 percent, to no more than 5 percent per year, according to the office of Mayor Katjana Ballantyne. The proposal would also increase protections for tenants to reduce or prevent “avoidable or unjustified evictions,” according to her office.

Following the City Council’s vote last Thursday, the petition now heads to Beacon Hill. Once there, the proposal will need to be placed on a committee agenda before eventually working its way to the full Legislature for approval.

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A spokesperson for Ballantyne said Tuesday that the mayor has signed the home rule petition and officials will be sending it to the State House “shortly.”

According to the city’s website, “if the state approves the request, Somerville begins the process of drafting and passing an ordinance for Rent Stabilization.”

The median rent in Somerville is about $3,100, according to the real estate website Zillow.

Ellen Shachter, director of Somerville’s Office of Housing Stability, told city councilors shortly before their Dec. 14 vote that if it’s approved by lawmakers and implemented by the city, the measure would give the city the power to regulate rents in a “meaningful way” for the first time in decades.

“I believe that rent stabilization as presented here tonight is a path towards [a] more equitable and just Somerville,” Shachter told members of the City Council.

In a statement released last month, when the petition was sent to city councilors, Ballantyne hailed the measure.

“We are facing a regional housing crisis, and we all know that losing stable housing completely upends people’s lives and that of their children. Our duty here is clear. We must use every available tool to help keep residents in their homes,” Ballantyne said in the statement. “Rent stabilization works, so we are pursuing it thoughtfully with our whole community in mind.”

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Somerville’s proposal comes as proponents of reviving rent control have been making their case to state lawmakers, while in Boston, Mayor Michelle Wu seeks state approval to cap increases on rents.

State Representative Mike Connolly, whose district includes parts of Somerville, signaled his support for Somerville’s proposal in a social media post.

“In 2023, the cities of Somerville, Brookline, and Boston all petitioned the legislature to enable local rent control. This is historic momentum on a necessary policy reform!” Connolly said.

Connolly said he re-filed the Tenant Protection Act with state Senator Jamie Eldridge, which he said would allow cities and towns to adopt rent stabilization and other measures.

Somerville’s proposal was developed over months of work by the city’s Anti-Displacement Task Force Residential Subcommittee, according to Ballantyne’s office. The task force, which was assembled by the mayor, included city councilors Ben Ewen-Campen and Judy Pineda Neufeld, as well as several community volunteers and city staffers.

Ewen-Campen, who also serves as the City Council president, said in an email there are also several pieces of legislation for “‘local option’ rent stabilization” from other communities.

The legislature could approve those proposals, including Somerville’s petition, he said. Or lawmakers could “approve a local option bill that allows municipalities to opt into some version of rent stabilization they can support,” he said.

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Pineda Neufeld, who serves as the board’s vice president, said the Somerville proposal’s inclusion of rent stabilization and protections against evictions would be important tools for the city.

“We talk about keeping people in the city and figuring out how to stop the bleed of displacement in the city,” she said of the petition. “And this is a big part of that.”

City Councilor Lance Davis said the proposal would be an additional tool to address the displacement of residents due to rising rents in Somerville.

“This remains the biggest challenge we have as a city, [which] is the inability to stay here,” Davis told colleagues shortly before the Dec. 14 vote.

Shachter and several city councilors, including members who described themselves as renters, predicted that getting legislators to approve the home rule petition will be difficult, but expressed optimism that they will prevail on Beacon Hill.

“To the folks who are pessimistic about whether or not we can have the legislature change, don’t be. It is possible,” City Councilor Charlotte Kelly said. “But we have [to] fight tooth and nail until they do the right thing.”


John Hilliard can be reached at john.hilliard@globe.com.