State Rep. Mike Connolly is trying to take his agenda off Beacon Hill and directly to voters through a 2024 ballot question that would allow local governments to implement rent control policies.
"The Legislature should approve rent control," Connolly said on Boston Public Radio Monday. But he noted there's been little appetite among lawmakers to take that step.
The ballot question recently made it through the legal hurdle of Attorney General Andrea Campbell's review, along with a range of other proposals. The next step is for Connolly and other advocates to collect about 75,000 signatures and turn them in by Nov. 22.
"What we see here is public demand for this issue. At present, there are more folks out there who want to volunteer to collect signatures than we've even gotten started," he said. "And so we really see this signature-gathering campaign ramping up over the coming weeks."
If it makes it to the 2024 ballot and then is approved by voters, the ballot question would overturn the state's 1994 law that banned local forms of rent control — a law that, 30 years ago, was also put into effect by ballot question. Cities and towns would be allowed to set their own policies, including limiting rent increases and regulating residential evictions.
Municipalities would be allowed to implement their own exemptions to rent control policies, but the ballot measure also sets some statewide exemptions. For one, Connolly said he was inspired by Boston Mayor Michelle Wu's rent control proposal and incorporated language that would exempt new developments from rent control for their first 15 years of occupancy. In addition, the proposal would exempt owner-occupant landlords, such as someone who owns a triple-decker and resides in one of the units.
"I think we can do this in a way that is fair to landlords and fair to tenants," Connolly said.
As part of spreading awareness — and inspired by the song Auditor Diana DiZoglio wrote about her ballot question — Connolly recorded a song about the history of rent control in Massachusetts and his proposal with musicians and friends Jesse Gallagher and Webb Sandquist.
"Many people assume there are some rules. Many people assume that, well, a landlord couldn't just say 'I'm going to double your rent' or 'I'm not going to extend your lease' for no reason. People need to understand here are truly no rules when it comes to rent or evictions, in many respects," Connolly said.
He added that Massachusetts is not a stranger to rent control. In fact, such laws used to be more commonplace.
"If you go back 103 years, the longest period that we have not had rent control in Massachusetts is the past 29 years," Connolly explained. "So rent control — rent stabilization — is a normal, moderate policy to help stabilize tenants. Going 30 years with no form of rent stabilization in the face of a housing emergency — that's the radical, extreme thing from a historical perspective."