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State House takes up rent stabilization. Here’s a look at the issue.

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The Massachusetts State House
Boston's newly minted mayor, Michelle Wu, has long been a proponent of rent stabilization, but Governor Charlie Baker has expressed opposition to the practice. John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

Beacon Hill heard testimony on a rent and eviction stabilization bill, among a slew of other housing proposals, Tuesday. If passed, the bill would allow cities and towns to put a limit on yearly rent hikes and stipulate that evictions be based on “a limited number of defined just causes.”

Rent stabilization was one of 20 housing bills up for discussion. The others proposed actions such as canceling rent for those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and requiring disclosures about smoking within a multi-unit residence.

Often the terms “rent stabilization” and “rent control” are used synonymously. Lawmakers are considering stabilization, which allows rent increases at a specific amount. Rent control, on the other hand, sets rates at a certain amount, according to Forbes.

Arguments in favor of rent stabilization

Boston’s newly minted mayor, Michelle Wu, has long been a proponent of rent stabilization.

In fact, the mayor said a “rent stabilization advisory group” will be announced this month. The committee will be tasked with examining such policies in other municipalities and making recommendations for a potential home rule petition to be filed with the state Legislature, Boston.com’s Christopher Gavin reported.

“With these actions, we’re taking our first major steps towards addressing Boston’s housing crisis,” Wu said in a press release in December when she announced the policy group as well as her other initiatives to boost affordable housing in the city. “Our city must build more affordable housing, leverage our wealth and resources to fight displacement, and protect tenants. Housing must be the foundation for our recovery, and this work begins immediately.”

Wu testified at the State House on rent stabilization Tuesday.

“I think sometimes there’s a push to make control seem scary, to use fear tactics to try to divide or terrify people about what could happen,” she said during a press conference before the hearings were slated to begin. “We know that other cities across the country who have implemented rent stabilization and rent control are seeing it working, are seeing that it doesn’t come with the sky falling and some of the consequences that opponents would have you believe. It does mean that people are put first instead of profits. It does mean that we are working towards a vision of cities where everyone is welcome and everyone has a home, and that is exactly what we will continue fighting for in the city of Boston.”

It’s been nearly 30 years since Boston has had rent control, and Governor Charlie Baker has promised that he would not sign legislation re-permitting it.

But that doesn’t mean those in favor of it are going to stop pushing for it.

“Rent control does work,” Gabriela Cartagena of City Life/Vida Urbana told Boston.com. “We’ve seen it work in different states, and it’s a growing movement across the nation.”

Cartagena pointed to Minneapolis, where voters approved rent control.

Enacting rent stabilization doesn’t mean landlords won’t have enough money to pay their mortgage or other associated expenses, she said. The point is to “cap the maximization” that a landlord can make off a property, she said, and raising rents obviously boosts the profit.

Rent stabilization also protects marginalized groups from being evicted, such as single-parent families, the disabled, people of color, and the elderly, she said, adding that eviction forces children out of their schools and could make it difficult for a parent to get to a job.

Arguments against rent stabilization

But those against the initiative say there are other ways to address the state’s housing crisis.

It’s harder for landlords to maintain a building, according to Doug Quattrochi, executive director at MassLandlords.net.

“It helps people initially,” Quattrochi said, but as the years go on, it makes it harder for people to find rental housing and has an “unintended” negative effect on people of color.

A 2019 study by the Urban Institute, a Washington, D.C.,-based policy think tank, had mixed findings on “whether people of color access rent-controlled units in proportion to their population share or housing need.”

“A study in Massachusetts found that although Hispanics and African-Americans accounted for a quarter of the population in cities with rent control, they made up just 12 percent of the population in rent-controlled units,” the study found. “In New Jersey, however, a study found African-American residents were overrepresented in rent-controlled cities.”

However, the study also said discrimination against prospective tenants of color could be higher in a controlled market due to a limited supply of housing and landlord bias.

Gregory Vasil, CEO of the Greater Boston Real Estate Board, said developers are less inclined to go into communities where there’s rent control.

“The real key is where can we build it, how, and at what price point,” Vasil said, noting that building in Boston is expensive. Having rent control means the city would be unable to meet the housing needs of its growing population, he said. “We need more housing as opposed to frozen existing housing. That frozen existing housing may help that person that is in that unit now,” but it could affect turnover and available inventory.

“The proponents of rent control, what they want to do is to keep people in their units because they want to prevent displacement,” Vasil said. ”In a healthy environment, you want some turnover so that units will open up for the next group coming in.”

Here’s a look at the remaining 20 proposals that were up for public discussion Tuesday: 

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