Boston’s Mayor, Michelle Wu, has recently introduced a progressive but rather controversial plan to address growing concerns over the city’s cost of living. In the fall of 2022, Boston surpassed San Francisco, becoming the second most expensive city for renters in the country. The average cost for a one-bedroom apartment in Boston is around $3,060, only topped by New York’s $3,860 average. Statistics show that housing expenses in Boston are a whopping 127% higher than the national average. Not only is the rent itself expensive, but other necessities like groceries and healthcare are around 15% more expensive than the national average.
In November of 2022, Mayor Wu announced her strategy to address the city’s worsening housing issue. The city of Boston is set to receive $500 million from the American Rescue Plan (ARP), a stimulus plan to help relieve economic problems in light of the pandemic, and Wu is going to allocate $200 million of the funds to numerous programs to relieve the housing problem. According to her website, she will be funding “programs that prevent displacement, expand access to homeownership, support community land trusts, fund capital repairs to Boston’s public housing, and build new, deeply-affordable, energy-efficient housing.” She hopes to get her plan in motion in early 2023.
It seems as though this plan could help a lot of people in Boston, and I think that any measures taken to alleviate the immense pressure on those who are struggling to afford housing in the city are essential. In my opinion, it seems that some of these things are more immediately beneficial and feasible than others. For example, Wu is allocating all “vacant or underutilized” city-owned land to be turned into subsidized housing. As a result, developers will be given 150 city-owned lots to build 300 homes for low-income buyers. Quite refreshingly, Wu believes that housing is a right, not a luxury, and she is also pushing for a sustainable way to reach her goals. Thus, she has promised that all of the affordable housing built by the city of Boston will be fossil fuel free by 2030. Additionally, Wu is creating educational programs to help first-time buyers better understand how to enter the housing market, especially if they are coming from subsidized housing. To help facilitate the building of this housing, she is using city voucher programs to help streamline the permit process for developers who want to create affordable living spaces.
Although the majority of students at Boston College would most likely not qualify for the subsidized housing Mayor Wu is offering, part of her mission is to repeal the law making rent stabilization illegal. If this passes, it could potentially benefit BC students, mostly juniors, who live off campus and within the Boston city limits. However, according to the Boston Globe, rent control rarely works in the way that it is intended. It is notorious for creating an imbalance in the housing economy, resulting in low stock and high demand. This happens because if a landlord can’t make a profit off of their unit, they may not want to rent or decide to sell instead. Similarly, if there is lessened profit for creating new housing, developers will be less inclined to build rentals. Lastly, tenants are less likely to leave their apartments if their rent is stabilized, causing people looking for new rentals to have very slim pickings. Jeff Jacoby, a conservative columnist for the Boston Globe, criticizes Wu, who received her bachelor’s in economics from Harvard University, insinuating that she should know better given her educational background. He claims that “the economic case against rent control is ironclad” and finishes by saying, “the mayor may have convinced herself that she can come up with a rent control scheme that will succeed where so many others have failed. Let’s see if she can convince anyone else.”
The Governor of Massachusetts, Maura Healey, said that she does not approve of a state-wide rent control measure but doesn’t oppose any local legislation that Mayor Wu would like to implement. It is unclear for how long Mayor Wu would consider implementing stabilizing rental measures, but it does appear that she considers this housing crisis an urgent issue and would like to alleviate the stress as soon as possible. From what I’ve observed in politics, progressive Democrats are usually discredited because of their seemingly “unrealistic” ideas and are often reeled in by more moderate members of their party. As much as I would like to see all of Mayor Wu’s revolutionary plan executed, I fear this case may require the same amount of “reeling in,” so to speak. Housing should be a right for all people, and I believe her plans for building and increasing access to affordable housing is essential to help the people of Boston. However, given Massachusetts’ negative history with rent stabilization, that part of the plan may need to be altered or reconsidered.