Rent control is not the answer for Boston
Deed-restricted affordable housing is what’s needed
Boston voters face a major choice in this fall’s election: will we commit to making housing in our city truly affordable for all, or will we embrace an outdated housing strategy that would harm those who need relief the most?
As Boston’s population and economy grew over the last few decades, our housing production didn’t keep up, and rent has increased. Too many of our families are being displaced and pushed out of neighborhoods they can no longer afford. We need to be a city that creates opportunities for all our residents to afford to stay, and that helps grow individual and community wealth. But one proposed solution to our city’s housing problems — rent control regulations that freeze existing rents for certain renters — would do much more harm than good.
In city after city, from New York to San Francisco, the effects of rent control are clear: less new housing is produced, and rents increase for anyone not protected by rent control’s narrow rules. The long term results are higher rent, more displacement, and reduced economic growth.
Rent control would be great news for the highest-income Boston renters, who would avoid annual rent increases on their luxury apartments. However, rent control would freeze rents at a level that is too high for most Bostonians; it’s not a real solution for the many families in Boston who currently struggle to afford already too-high rents. It’s not a real solution for future immigrants and other new arrivals in our city who would be stuck paying much higher rent when they arrive here.
We need to lower market rents and provide more truly affordable housing, not just lock our city’s high rents in place. The only way to do that is by building housing that is deed restricted as affordable, at levels our families can afford.
In addition, rent control would put an immediate damper on construction of new housing, including the mixed-income housing developments that provide a large portion of Boston’s new affordable housing. That means that more people would be competing to buy the same number of homes, because we would not be creating enough new homes, and housing prices would continue to soar.
Rather than pursuing a disastrous housing strategy that would reward some of our city’s residents at the expense of others, with no consideration of who actually needs rental relief, we should focus on increasing housing production at all levels — affordable, middle-income, and market-rate — and on increasing opportunities for homeownership and wealth creation in our neighborhoods.
From an early age, I appreciated how much it meant for my parents, who immigrated from Cabo Verde, to purchase their own home and build a stable financial foundation that allowed us to stay in our neighborhood surrounded by family. As executive director of the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, I led the creation of the largest urban land trust in the country to protect the Dudley community from displacement and built 225 permanently affordable homes.
As chief of economic development for the city of Boston, I worked with stakeholders to increase linkage fees developers pay and passed the Community Preservation Act, both of which fund rent-subsidized affordable housing construction across the city. I saw how increased housing production led to a positive cycle: more jobs, more economic growth, and more funds that the city could use to produce more housing that is truly affordable for the families and residents who need them the most.
During my time as chief of economic development, the city of Boston produced more affordable housing than any other time in Boston’s history. Now, I have a plan to build on that progress, and do even more to create economic growth and development without displacement.
From higher-density building near transit and neighborhood amenities, to making sure that our colleges and universities are building more dorms for their undergraduate and graduate students, to streamlining the permitting process to reduce the cost of building affordable housing, we have the tools to increase the production of housing that’s affordable for people of all income levels.
From increasing city resources for homeownership programs, to supporting the acquisition of land and creation of affordable housing by community land trusts, to using more city-owned land for affordable homes, to create neighborhood investment funds that allow residents to invest in real estate being developed in their neighborhoods, we have the tools to make affordable housing for all a reality in Boston.
We won’t get there by locking the status quo in place and pitting current renters against future residents. We’ll do it by bringing everyone to the table around proven strategies that produce truly affordable housing.
This op-ed by John originally appeared in Commonwealth Magazine on July 13, 2021.