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Boston City Council Proposes Law To Maintain Affordable Housing

Housing activists swarmed the front steps of the State House on Tuesday before heading back inside to a legislative hearing on rent control. (Sam Doran/SHNS)
Housing activists swarmed the front steps of the State House on Tuesday before heading back inside to a legislative hearing on rent control. (Sam Doran/SHNS)
This article is more than 1 year old.

Several Boston City Councilors have filed a measure to prevent thousands of affordable apartments in the city from being converted to market rate units.

Proponents say the city is at risk of losing more than 900 affordable apartment units next year alone, while critics complain the move is another attempt at reviving rent control, which ended in Massachusetts after voters narrowly approved a statewide referendum in 1994.

The Boston proposal, similar to a measure the council approved in 2016, would require approval both by the council and the state legislature. It seeks to give the city the power to regulate rents at certain privately owned affordable housing developments. In those developments, landlords agreed to limit rents for 40 years in exchange for government subsidies. But now many of those commitments are set to expire.

Councilor Matt O'Malley, one of the councilors who introduced the home rule petition, said the council has made similar efforts to prevent the conversion of so-called "expiring use" units in the past. But councilors have failed to get the initiative past the legislature.

O'Malley said he's hopeful this time will be different.

"These are mostly senior citizens, and it's just inherently unfair that they're at a real risk to possibly be displaced and to lose their homes," O'Malley said.

One supporter of the council's effort to prevent the conversions is Frank Sagarese, a resident of the Forbes Building in Jamaica Plain, where tenant protections are set to expire in March.

"I'm on a set income. I'm on Social Security and my wife is disabled," he said. "I'm disabled. I am 73 years old and I'm scared that I'm going to end up homeless."

A lawyer for the Forbes building, Jeff Sacks, said owners are trying to strike a deal with the state to keep the development affordable. Sacks wouldn't reveal what the owners are proposing, but he said the ultimate goal is to prevent all of the current residents from being displaced.

"What we're trying to do now is protect the tenants who live there," Sacks said. "And the owners' proposal does that."

Sacks also rejected the home rule petition as an attempt at rent control.

"I think the answer to the affordable housing issues for Boston — and our region and our country — is production of housing," Sacks said. "It's not controlling rents. I think that's been proven."

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Simón Rios Twitter Reporter
Simón Ríos is an award-winning bilingual reporter in WBUR's newsroom.

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