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Somerville eyes rent control push as Boston City Council takes up Wu's plan

Homes (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
Homes (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Editor's Note: This is an excerpt from WBUR's daily morning newsletter, WBUR Today. If you like what you read and want it in your inbox, sign up here

In case you’re still dizzy from yesterday’s Downeaster drinking rules reversal, we’ll keep today’s news more straightforward. Let’s get to it:

The Boston City Council is expected to vote on Mayor Michelle Wu’s rent control proposal during its meeting today, potentially the first of several rounds of approval the measure eventually needs to take effect. And as The Boston Globe reported last week, there are increasing signs that the Council may be amenable to Wu’s compromise plan. But it’s not only Boston showing an appetite for caps on rent increases.

  • WBUR’s Amy Sokolow reports that Somerville is also planning to move forward with a rent control home rule petition this year. City Councilor Ben Ewen-Campen says he is hearing “constantly” from constituents who are being pushed out of the city by rent increases. “This has been happening for years, but since the Green Line came in, it’s been an explosion,” said Ewen-Campen.
  • What’s next: Like Wu, Somerville Mayor Katjana Ballantyne touted rent control during her 2021 campaign. While Ewen-Campen noted it was too early to get into specific details, he said it’s important that they draft a policy that protects tenants from rent gouging and also has a chance of getting through the State House. Ewen-Campen is hopeful the city can pass the measure by this fall.
  • Remember — whether it’s Boston, Somerville or any other of the state’s 351 cities and towns — Massachusetts’ statewide ban on rent control means these home rule petitions also need approval from both chambers of the State House and Gov. Maura Healey. Healey has said she supports letting cities and towns pass their own local laws, but it’s unclear if the House and Senate agree.
  • Zoom out: The two cities’ movement on the issue comes after a new poll released Tuesday found that a sizable majority of Bay Staters support giving cities and towns the ability to institute their own rent control policies — by a 65%-25% margin.

Gov. Maura Healey says she’s “days, not weeks” away from appointing a new transportation safety chief to conduct a full review of the state’s roads, bridges and public transit systems. The newly created position — a core piece of the Healey campaign’s transportation plan — is intended to “ensure people’s confidence in the safety and reliability of public transit,” Healey told reporters at the State House on Tuesday.

  • It comes at a time when that confidence might not be particularly high, after an MBTA ceiling panel fell and nearly hit a college student in Harvard station. MBTA officials said Tuesday that they are now removing all panels on the southbound side of the station in order “to do a thorough inspection of the overhead structure.”
  • Why the hold up? Healey had pledged to hire someone for the safety chief job within 60 days of her inauguration — a deadline that came and went earlier this week. She told reporters yesterday that it’s simply been “a process” finding the “very best people” for both the safety chief and MBTA general manager jobs.
  • In related news: Healey’s budget includes $5 million for a program offering discounted MBTA fares to low-income riders. Here’s a close look at what it would look like and what comes next.

Listen, we don’t advocate for rudeness in this newsletter — but you do apparently have a constitutional right to be a “Masshole.” The state’s Supreme Judicial Court ruled yesterday that towns, cities and public agencies cannot silence a person during “public comment” portions of meetings for making rude statements. The case stems from a 2018 Southborough Select Board meeting in which officials cut off a resident who they said was being rude about a property tax hike.

  • ACLU lawyer Ruth Bourquin tells WBUR’s Dave Faneuf that the ruling yesterday makes clear that officials can’t do that, “whether or not they deem the speech respectful or courteous enough.”

Is your dream to be the Suffolk County register of probate? Now’s your chance. Former Boston City Councilor Felix D. Arroyo has retired from the low-profile but high-paying post, as The Boston Globe and Boston Herald report. (The 74-year-old is not to be confused with his sons, City Councilor Ricardo Arroyo or former Councilor Felix G. Arroyo.)

  • What’s next: It will be up to Healey to appoint a replacement until the next state election in 2024.

P.S.— Our new podcast with The Marshall Project debuts in exactly two weeks. “Violation” tells a story about power and privilege, and pulls back the curtain on parole boards — secretive, largely political bodies that control the fates of thousands of people every year. Listen to the trailer here, and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.


Nik DeCosta-Klipa Newsletter Editor
Nik DeCosta-Klipa is the newsletter editor for WBUR.



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