Mayor Ballantyne's Testimony on Somerville’s Rent Stabilization Home Rule Petition- S.2545
The Honorable James Arciero - Chair, Joint Committee on Housing
State House, Room 146
Boston, MA 02133
The Honorable Lydia Edwards -Chair, Joint Committee on Housing
State House, Room 413-C Boston, MA 02133
Re: S.2545, An Act authorizing the city of Somerville to regulate rent in residential dwelling units
Dear Chairs Arciero and Edwards, and members of the Committee,
I am proud to convey my emphatic support for Somerville’s Rent Stabilization Home Rule Petition- S.2545. Rent stabilization was the first thing I testified in support of as Mayor of Somerville, and I will continue to support both Home Rule Petitions and Enabling Legislation empowering cities and towns to adopt reasonable forms of rent stabilization if they so choose. I cannot stress enough how crucial rent stabilization is, especially in a booming City like ours.
Somerville has benefited from many positive developments that have recently taken shape, such as the Green Line Extension, Community Path Extension, and continued development in Assembly and Union Squares. With these important developments, however, have come some of the largest rent increases we’ve ever seen. Our Office of Housing Stability has been flooded with calls for assistance, working with roughly 1,400 households annually. Tenants are often unable to afford these large rent increases or find any other affordable units in Somerville, leading to displacement far too often.
This Home Rule Petition is a representation of the values Somerville residents hold dear, but more than that, it is a clear statement of what our residents need to be stable in their homes. S.2545 was drafted after an extensive community process that was facilitated by our Anti-Displacement Task Force (ADTF), which is made up of community members and city staff. The ADTF was solely focused on this HRP for five months, and we worked closely together to develop the bill before you, which was also unanimously approved by the City Council. Regarding the community process, one important component was hosting three dedicated listening sessions: one for property owners/landlords, one for tenants and one for all Somerville residents. The notes from these sessions formed the basis for subsequent discussion by the ADTF, and feedback was also accepted via email or phone for an extended period of time.
S.2545 was crafted to address the concerns of both tenants and property owners that we engage with every day and heard from throughout the community engagement process. We have been very thoughtful about the details of the proposed rent stabilization proposal, seeking to put forth something that is fair, limits any negative unintended consequences, and provides meaningful protection to tenants currently at chronic risk of displacement due to extreme rent increases. For example, our decision to allow annual rent increases equal to CPI + 2% up to a maximum of 5%, but also allow for exceptions to these limits for unusual expenses like capital expenditures is one way we have tried to make sure rent stabilization will help tenants without imposing unmanageable obstacles for property owners.
Additionally, we have also exempted all owner-occupied buildings with three or fewer units and included a provision to adopt further exemptions for vulnerable seniors reliant on rental income. Somerville values its long-time property owners who have rented to tenants at affordable rates, and we will work to mitigate negative impacts of this on those owners, who are often owner-occupants. Our community crafted this bill with care and consideration for all residents. But the time is NOW to act before those same residents are forced to leave Somerville. While we are doing everything we can as a municipality, rent stabilization is desperately needed to stop the hemorrhaging of low- and moderate-income renters from our City. Passage of S.2545 would provide critical new rights for Somerville tenants, while still allowing owners to make reasonable profit and maintain their properties.
The current housing crisis requires us to be bold and to confront this housing crisis for the major humanitarian disaster that it is. The legislature is well aware that the Commonwealth is struggling to find reasonable solutions to even house families with minor children if they lose their homes due to non-payment of rent for example. Children and their guardians need protections like rent stabilization to avoid homelessness and remain in their homes and communities. The human costs of displacement, particularly for families and other vulnerable residents, are incredibly high. Displacement is not just losing a unit- it can be your child losing their school and friends, loss of closeness to family, loss of healthcare access and numerous other bonds that are broken. When we can prevent this situation, we must. S.2545 will finally give us back this crucial tool that is absolutely necessary to effectively mitigate displacement.
I cannot express our urgency enough. Please consider S.2545 with the care this crisis demands and allow us to protect our tenants with this absolutely critical tool.
Mayor Katjana Ballantyne
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