Is Wu’s Rent Control Panel Really Listening?

Boston City Hall. The panel crafting the “rent stabilization” proposal promised by Boston Mayor Michelle Wu is telling members of the public not to discuss the merits of rent control, only how to implement it.

Will Boston Mayor Michelle Wu succeed in bringing back some form of rent control if she gets a friendly ear in the corner office of the State House? We will see.

But here’s one thing that’s definitely not working: the efforts of the mayor-appointed “rent stabilization” committee to limit debate on one of today’s most charged political issues.

The 23-member panel held a series of ‘listening sessions’, but he made it clear there are some things he doesn’t want to hear about whether rent control is a good idea in the first place. .

Among the acceptable topics for people participating in online forums were not if but “how” rent increases should be capped, how such a policy should be administered, and whether landlords should be allowed to “hoard” rent increases. rent increases which they waived in certain years. .

Considering the high stakes and the magnitude of the problem, this directive, repeated at the start of each session, you can imagine how successful it was.

Panel members received extensive feedback during a July 21 session where landlords were asked for their thoughts on how a rent cap could be structured, according to Banker & Tradesman reports.

The group composed mainly of small owners gave its contribution well. Of course, one couple dutifully followed the rules and even voiced their support for rent caps.

But others were not so compliant, calling for an exemption for small landlords while ignoring the panel’s attempts to restrict discussion.

Sheila Grove, who has six apartments in the South End and has worked in the area for four decades, said she speaks regularly with developers and closely monitors the area’s rental market.

“I reject your assumption that rent stabilization will create more affordable rents,” Grove said. “If you increase the supply, then [rents] level.

The same pattern emerged in the other listening sessions as well, not just the owners’. A short-lived discussion Tuesday aimed at union members and workers passed without attracting a single union leader, with small landlords and one or two angry tenants dominating the discussion.

Boston did not vote for rent control

The Wu administration’s attempts to steer the discussion away from pros and cons and rent control add to the controversy over the composition of the panel itself.

When the new mayor rolled out the rent control panel earlier this year, only six of its 23 members had a background in the private real estate industry.

The rest of the panel is made up of housing advocates, as well as union leaders, professors, top foundation bosses, representatives of tenant groups — even a medical school professor.

It’s an approach based on an erroneous assumption – that the Boston rent control debate is a settled issue, that the city’s residents, in electing Wu, also voted overwhelmingly in favor of rent control, that she supported.

Wu indeed beat her opponent, beating Councilwoman Annissa Essaibi George by an unbalanced percentage of 64-36%.

But given that only a third of the city’s electorate contested, that means Wu won with the support of 20% of Boston’s registered voters.

Scott Van Voorhis

And even then, it would be a stretch to assume that every Wu voter, even in a renter-dominated city like Boston, agreed with his stance on something as controversial as rent control. Basic economics and Boston’s own experience show that a return to rent control could very well drive down housing production in the city at a time when rents are rising like crazy, precisely because it doesn’t. there are not enough apartments to house all those who need it. Shouldn’t Wu’s advisory board also hear important criticisms like this?

The debate over whether to cap rents in Boston is still going strong, with the heated debate that took place during the panel’s so-called listening sessions as Exhibit A.

It’s a message the Wu administration’s rent control panel should have heard loud and clear by now.

That’s if they were really listening. We will have to see when the advisory committee submits its report if this actually happens.

Scott Van Voorhis is the Banker & Tradesman columnist; the opinions expressed are his own. It can be attached to [email protected].