By Jean Paul Azzopardi
Boston University News Service
BOSTON – In a recent WBUR question-and-answer event with Radio Boston host Tiziana Dearing, Boston mayor candidate Michelle Wu addressed concerns about the city’s unchecked housing crisis, which has seen rent and sale prices rise at an alarming rate.
The city councilor defended her plan to implement a system of rent stabilization, something she says is different from rent control, and outlined how landlords will still be able to pay the city’s property tax.
“This is not sustainable or reasonable for anyone in any situation,” she said. “Housing isn’t just where you lay your head at night. It is health, life or death, your childcare situation and it is perfectly reasonable for us to expect, demand and fight for everyone to have that stability in our city.”
Nearly two-thirds of Boston residents are renters, with one-third of that group paying more than half of their yearly income toward housing. Wu, who has put the issue at the forefront of her agenda as mayoral candidate, said that rent stabilization is the solution to the price hike problem.
“I lean into the fact that we need to use every possible power that the city government has to keep families in their home,” she said. “Rent control means dictating exact rent levels … rent stabilization talks more about the increase, or rate of change, of those rents.”
Wu cited Oregon’s rent stabilization policy as an example of how to build a “multifaceted, comprehensive strategy to keep people in their homes.”
“You pair the ability to create more housing and prevent people from getting pushed out in the short term by putting guardrails around how quickly rent can go up,” she explained.
In 2019, Oregon became the first state to impose a statewide rent policy. The law capped rent hikes at 7% plus inflation during any 12-month period.
“When you have those guardrails, you can keep people in those communities, and it does not mean we are halting growth or freezing development,” she said. “We are able to pursue all of this in a very comprehensive and nuanced way.”
Responding to concerns about what this could mean for property owners struggling to meet tax payments, Wu discussed a new set of “creative” mechanisms aimed at directly supporting landlords.
“Landlords have gone through a lot during this pandemic,” Wu said. “And we have seen that the burdens of needing to maintain mortgage payments while tenants are struggling to pay their rent can put them in a difficult middle situation.”
To address the situation, Wu proposed $200 million to “stabilize” people in their homes, with aid going both to renters and landlords.
In a lightning round format with questions from the audience, Wu also discussed Boston Public Schools and its lack of support for underprivileged students, the city’s accessibility to arts and culture, and the need to separate planning and development boards. In addition to the demilitarization of the police and the ever-growing opioid and homelessness crisis at “Mass. and Cass,” the large encampment near Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard.
“The moment we are in is a hard moment on many, many fronts when it comes to justice for our communities, our housing crisis, and the dangers of climate change,” Wu said. “Now is the time for Boston to lean into our legacy, which is that we’ve always been the city to stand up and fight the important fights, because that is what we need and deserve.”
Wu will go head-to-head against rival mayoral candidate Annissa Essaibi George in a televised debate on Monday, Oct. 25 before the general election on Nov. 2. She currently maintains a lead of more than 30% according to a poll conducted by Suffolk University.