BOSTON (WHDH) - When it comes to rent control, the Massachusetts Legislature is testing Boston Mayor Michelle Wu’s patience.

It’s been nearly four months since the Boston City Council approved Wu’s proposal to revive local rent control, and it’ll be several more months before lawmakers even begin their formal review of the idea that Wu made a hallmark of her 2021 campaign.

The Legislature’s Joint Committee on Housing is in no rush to consider Boston’s plan, which aims to tackle a housing affordability crisis that is afflicting cities and towns throughout the state.

House and Senate Democrats did not include the measure (H 3744) on the docket of a June 26 hearing that featured several other home rule petitions. They also left it and several broader rent control bills off the agenda for a July 11 hearing focused on legislation about housing “affordability.”

“Although there are a few exceptions, the vast majority of home rule petitions are slated to be heard by the Joint Committee on Housing in the fall — likely around October,” a spokesperson for committee co-chair Sen. Lydia Edwards of Boston told the News Service.

A spokesperson for House co-chair Rep. Jim Arciero agreed with that projected timeline.

Asked why the panel wants to wait for a hearing given the urgency with which supporters have described the matter, the Edwards spokesperson said only that the hearing will take place “well before” the Feb. 7, 2024 bill-reporting deadline for the two-year term.

The Housing Committee did not convene its first hearing for the 2023-2024 session until April 12, when it weighed constitutional amendments. Its first hearing that featured standalone bills came on June 26.

Katie McCann, a rent control organizer with City Life Vida Urbana, said reform supporters are “definitely not seeing the urgency needed” in the approach lawmakers have taken so far.

The group backs a broader bill (H 2103 / S 1299), filed by Reps. David Rogers and Samantha Montaño and Sen. Patricia Jehlen, that would allow any city or town to implement a rent control system as well as additional anti-eviction protections for tenants. Lawmakers initially referred that bill to the Municipalities and Regional Government Committee, but switched it to the Housing Committee on June 1, where it has not yet been scheduled for a hearing.

“Right now, the State House is sitting on all of these urgently needed bills that would protect tenants and prevent them from being displaced out of their homes and communities and even out of Massachusetts, which is what we’re seeing more and more,” McCann said.

Greater Boston Real Estate Board CEO Greg Vasil said he views the likely autumn hearing on Boston’s home rule petition as a bit earlier than past sessions, when standalone rent control bills often emerged for hearings in the second year of the term.

His group has been vocally fighting against Boston’s proposal, and it ran a roughly $400,000 campaign of mailers and digital ads urging voters to oppose rent control. That effort “accomplished what we wanted to do,” Vasil said, adding that the Greater Boston Real Estate Board will now “survey the landscape politically as we prepare to unfold later phases of the campaign.”

“Our real focus is: we really want to get going and do more on production. We’re hoping the Legislature is going to focus on what can we do to start building stuff,” Vasil said. “Regulations like rent control — we’ve been opposed, we’re always going to be opposed, because that’s not going to solve our problem. Actual units in the ground is what’s going to solve our problem.”

The Boston home rule petition would limit the amount Boston landlords could increase rent each year to 6 percent plus the annual change in the Consumer Price Index, capped at a combined maximum of 10 percent.

It would not apply to owner-occupied buildings with six or fewer units, and newly built, added or converted units would be exempt for the first 15 years of their owner occupancy certificates.

Landlords also would not face a maximum rental increase cap the first year with a new tenant, a measure designed to allow them to reset prices to market value in between tenants.

The statewide local-option bill backed by City Life / Vida Urbana has a lower rental increase cap of 5 percent.

In 1994, voters approved a ballot question banning rent control in Massachusetts. Legislative leaders have shown no interest in allowing local revivals of the practice, which continues to draw significant opposition from real estate and landlord groups.

Gov. Maura Healey has not taken a definitive stance on rent control, or outlined housing policy legislation to tackle the crisis. The governor has created a standalone state housing secretariat and has argued that step will direct more attention, with existing tools, toward addressing the sky-high prices and lack of supply that strain many residents.

After meeting with Wu in December, Healey, when she was still governor-elect, said that rent control is “up to communities to decide.” Any home rule petition seeking to revive the policy in a single city or town will need to first win approval from the Legislature and state government.

Edwards, who served Wu on the city council before she joined the Senate, previously voiced support for the mayor’s effort. In March 2022, she appeared alongside Wu at a press conference announcing a task force to create a “rent stabilization” plan.

It’s not clear where Arciero, a Westford Democrat, stands on rent control.

(Copyright (c) 2024 State House News Service.

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