With rising housing costs forcing tenants to move out of the city, the Walsh administration is considering offering tax breaks to landlords who charge below-market rents.
The proposal is still in its early stages and the administration has few details on how it would work. But the tax break is an example of the kind of "incentives for landlords who do the right thing" that Mayor Martin J. Walsh spoke about in his State of the City Address Tuesday night.
"We're looking at a lot of kinds of incentives," added Walsh's housing chief, Sheila Dillon.
The incentives are part of a new push by Walsh to prevent renter displacement in Boston's hot housing market. He said Tuesday he will create an Office of Housing Stability to better coordinate existing programs that help Bostonians avoid eviction and find emergency housing.
"We should help people stay in their communities," Walsh said.
The campaign could also include financial help — a tax break or credit, for example — for small landlords who lease apartments at below-market rents, Dillon said. The administration is studying ideas and expects to have more details in the coming months.
Walsh also said his administration — which has made developing more housing a top priority — should also work to keep renters in their current apartments. For example, the city plans soon to provide $5 million for nonprofits to buy rental housing and keep it at affordable rents.
The plan comes as tenant groups intensify their push for greater protections for renters, holding protests in recent months from East Boston to Jamaica Plain to highlight evictions by building owners seeking higher rents.
A group of housing advocates is set this spring to propose the city adopt measures that would require mediation if landlords try to raise rents more than 5 percent, and limit the circumstances under which they could evict tenants. Walsh has said he supports this so-called "just-cause" eviction law "in concept," but that many details must be worked out.
Either way, that the mayor even devoted a portion of his biggest speech of the year talking about solutions to soaring rents cheered Steve Meacham, organizing coordinator at tenant group City Life/Vida Urbana.
"I think it signals that displacement has become an issue that people are recognizing is real," he said. adding, "I don't know what it means in terms of specifics."
Neither did Skip Schloming, executive director of the Small Property Owners Association, who is fighting the just-cause eviction measure but said he'd likely support financial help for landlords or for tenants struggling to pay their rent.
"It's hard to tell whether this is to assist the just-cause eviction proposal or whether it's the mayor's alternative to that proposal. We can't tell," Schloming said. "If it is an alternative, that would be good."
Dillon said the Walsh administration has not yet taken a position on the eviction bill; that will depend on details of the proposal, which advocates expect to submit this spring. But the administration wants to sharpen its focus on helping renters. That's why it's putting several existing programs under one new department in City Hall.
"We really want to give this the attention it deserves," Dillon said. "We're going to have a goodly number of people waking up every single day thinking about how to keep people in their rental home."