Housing

Our challenge

We have a housing crisis in Massachusetts

Displacement is a major problem due to skyrocketing rents and evictions designed to make room for luxury housing [1]. Rental prices in Boston rise year after year and show no signs of slowing [2].

In the past decade, homelessness has increased by 32% in MA. Now Massachusetts has the 6th largest homeless population in the country [3].

Cities and towns have taken steps to create affordable housing, but often the legislature stands in the way of those efforts [4].

Our choice

“Home Rule” stopped Boston

State Law places extreme restrictions on cities and towns’ ability to legislate housing policy. Even after a city or town passes a housing policy, the state legislature must vote to approve it [5].

The Jim Brooks Stabilization Act, would have enabled Boston to track evictions and allowed the city to notify tenants of their rights under existing law when they were being evicted.

The Act was killed by state legislature in May 2018, despite supermajority support by Boston City Council. Boston will need to start over from scratch if they want to see these reforms passed [6].

Other bills addressing the housing crisis, like Right of First Refusal and Real Estate Transfer Fees, require the legislature to act even when a city council acts. Somerville unanimously passed a Real Estate Transfer Fee in 2018, but the Legislature killed it by failing to act before the end of the year [7].

Bill: Remove “Home Rule” restrictions

So how can we solve the housing crisis given the restrictions on city power?

The legislature can authorize cities to make law in one-off cases, or it can empower cities to make law by explicitly enabling them to do so and carving out exceptions to the current “Home Rule” regime.

Rep. Mike Connolly & Rep. Nika Elugardo have introduced a bill to empower cities to take action to solve the housing crisis.

This is the first year such a broad law has been introduced, but it has several precursor laws last session that would have enabled a more limited type of exception. The legislature killed both of those bills last session, and we will need pressure on the Housing Committee.

Our power

What can you do?

Call your representative

Commit to calling your state rep, we will contact you when your voice is needed most.

Join our phone bank

Call voters who live in districts with state reps who still don't support this bill.

Knock on doors

Engage voters at the door step about this issue and many more.

Common questions

Isn’t Home Rule a good thing to ensure that the State enacts reasonable policies?

No. A 2007 report by the Rapaport Insitute at Harvard found that Massachusetts has a uniquely restrictive legal framework governing how cities can govern themselves. No other cities they studied were as limited in law-making power as Boston (or other Massachusetts cities).

The authors note: “Because the Home Rule Amendment to the Massachusetts Constitution exempts taxing, borrowing, the regulation of private and civil affairs, and municipal elections from its scope, Boston has less authority than the six other major U.S. cities we examined. For example, the Illinois Constitution grants municipalities home rule powers that pertain to local matters and then expressly defines them in an expansive fashion.1 As a result, Chicago has the power to tax, the power to borrow, and the power to “regulate for the protection of the public health, safety, morals, and welfare . …”2 Moreover, the Illinois Constitution provides—as the Massachusetts Constitution does not—that the “[p]owers and functions of home rule units shall be construed liberally.”3 Consistent with that instruction, the Illinois Supreme Court has construed the grant of home rule to include the power to regulate municipal elections, including the authority to require them to be nonpartisan.4 Similarly, none of the other cities we studied operates under a grant of home rule that exempts taxing, borrowing, the regulation of private or civil affairs, and the regulation of municipal elections from its coverage.”

Read more here.

Learn more

  1. City Life Vida Urbana
  2. Right to the City
  3. Dorchester is Not For Sale

References

  1. “‘Mass displacement is a crisis’: Building clearouts are becoming increasingly common in Boston” Boston Globe, 8/24/2017
  2. “Greater Boston rents continue to rise, and at a faster clip” Boston Globe, June 28th 2018
  3. “The 2018 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) to Congress” US Department of Housing & Urban Development. December 2018
  4. Bologna, Jamie and Megna Chakrabarti, “How Boston’s Big Attempt At Rental Law Reform Failed, WBUR“
  5. Frug, Geralda, and David Barron, “Boston Bound: A Comparison of Boston’s Legal Powers with Those of Six Other Major American Cities”, Rapaport Institute of Greater Boston, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.
  6. “Council Passes the Jim Brooks Stablilization Act”, Boston City Council website,
  7. The measure actually passed through two committees, but died because it was held in the “Committee on Steering, Policy, and Scheduling” and wasn’t permitted a floor vote.