An article that aims to bring rent control back to Brookline received the majority vote Thursday evening after more than an hour of debating the policy’s contentious past in the Boston suburb.
At Town Meeting, 112 members voted yes, 107 voted no, and there were 13 abstentions.
Support for Article 16 — which caps rent increases annually at a base rate of 3%, plus inflation, for a maximum increase of 7% — came from an understanding of many Town Meeting members that the rent is just too high in Brookline and it’s one of the most expensive Massachusetts communities to live in.
Rent also has increased over the last year, though it was debated how much rent has actually increased and if the 7% cap would truly help. The most recent update from real estate website Zumper shows that one-bedroom rentals in Brookline have increased by 13% since November 2022, while Zillow reports an increase of $100, or about a 5.5% increase, in that same time.
But Thursday’s vote was only half the battle. Because this article is actually a home-rule petition, it is asking for the state’s approval to bypass the rent control ban that has been in place since 1994.
Boston and Somerville have submitted similar home-rule petitions to the state Legislature, and there’s also a state bill heard Tuesday that would allow cities and towns to set rent caps and provide tenant protections.
“Many of our peer communities have taken similar actions… We have a chance here to play a leadership role as well in the community and in Greater Boston,” said Town Meeting member Alec Lebovitz, one of the article’s proponents.
Lebovitz and the article’s other proponents, Town Meeting member Kimberley Richardson and resident Johnathon Card, said their cap is a much more reasonable rent control policy compared to what Brookline had before 1994, when rent control was banned by Beacon Hill. Richardson described the town’s past rent control rules as “considerably more complex.”
Some opponents who spoke against the bill often brought up what Brookline was like before the state banned rent control policies. They said buildings had deteriorated and that the debates over the issue, particularly between tenants and landlords, were nasty.
Those in support argued that rents rose as soon as rent control was banned statewide, and besides, Brookline was among the few municipalities who voted against the ban.
Also thrown into the debate was Tuesday’s major accomplishment for Brookline, when Town Meeting members passed a rezoning law that will put the town in compliance with the MBTA Communities Act and potentially add multifamily housing to Brookline’s low stock, part of the reason why rent and home prices are so high.
It took officials years to come to an agreement on the rezoning law, and some opponents felt that adding rent control to the mix would scare new developers away.
“There is no need to move this now,” said member Carol Gladstone, who said she regrets having to oppose the article. “If we can let the Office of Housing Stability do its thing, and we can see what happens on Beacon Hill, I would encourage everyone to let this wait, see how we do on housing development, and hopefully live to see a lot more housing in Brookline.”
It should be noted that some buildings would be exempt from the policy, including those buildings developed within the last 15 years, dormitories, public housing, and properties with four or less units.
The proposal isn’t just pushing for rent stabilization. Lebovitz said this article would also include bylaws that would give tenants more protections against evictions and the costly displacement if their landlords switch the building’s units to condominiums.
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