Boston city councilors file a proposal to keep affordable apartments from hitting market rate

News Renting Boston
The measure is similar to one the council backed in 2016. Scott Eisen/Bloomberg

Boston city councilors are seeking to keep privately owned, affordable apartments from hitting market-rate prices when decades-old agreements expire.

Earlier this month, several councilors filed a home rule petition that would, if passed, give the city the authority to regulate rents at certain private housing developments, WBUR reported.

The measure is similar to one the council backed in 2016. If the council supports the new measure, it would require approval from state lawmakers to take hold.

Supporters say the move is needed as 40-year-old agreements — with landlords of such developments not to raise rents in exchange for government subsidies — are slated to expire in the coming years.

According to the filing, 928 units in the city are at risk of conversion to the market rate by sometime next year. Out of 30,435 privately owned, subsidized apartments, nearly 2,000 have already been converted.

Councilor Matt O’Malley, one of the lawmakers who introduced the petition, said officials have tried to prevent the conversion of “expiring use” units before, but their efforts have failed to gain traction on Beacon Hill, according to WBUR.

This time, however, could be different, he indicated.

“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.

Frank Sagarese is also a supporter of the measure. Sagarese is a resident of the Forbes Building in Jamaica Plain, where such protections are slated to expire in March 2022, the news station reports.

“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.”

Jeff Sacks, a lawyer for the Forbes Building, told the station that the building’s owners are trying to reach an agreement with state officials to ensure the units remain affordable. Though he didn’t disclose details of the plans, he said residents would be protected from displacement.

Sacks said the council’s proposal, however, was essentially rent control. In Massachusetts, voters rejected rent control in a 1994 ballot question, ending the practice in cities such as Boston and Cambridge.

The idea of using rent control to ease Boston’s housing crisis is garnering interest again.

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

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