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Lawrence mom speaks on State House steps about rent control need

Eagle-Tribune - 11/17/2023

Nov. 17—BOSTON — With the harsh reality of her rent doubling, a Lawrence woman spoke on the State House steps about "impossible" actions being taken against tenants such as her across the state.

"My family, along with four other families in my building, are resisting a massive no-fault eviction by a new owner who wants to increase our rent by more than 50 percent. On top of the rent increase, she asked us for two new deposits for these apartments, which are in poor condition to begin with," said Leila Peralta, a single-mother from Lawrence and a member of the 62 Union Street Tenant Association.

She credited the non-profit Vida Urbana, who is helping the Lawrence tenants "fighting this."

"We need strong rent control now in Lawrence to not only protect my family and neighbors, but to provide stability for all families throughout the city, giving them the chance to thrive in Lawrence and stay in Massachusetts," Peralta said.

"We are fighting with a landlord who is completely insensitive to the pains of the working class," she said through a translator.

Skyrocketing rents and housing costs are making it impossible for hundreds of thousands of Massachusetts residents to make ends meet, and holding back our entire economy. As state leaders pursue long-term attempts to lower the cost of housing in Massachusetts, renters, housing advocates, and union members from across Massachusetts are demanding rent control now to prevent immediate displacement and economic pain, and keep people in their homes, according to a press release from Homes for All Mass is a statewide formation of grassroots housing justice groups working to halt displacement, increase community control of land, and win housing justice.

At the State House Tuesday, dozens of renters, housing advocates, and union members testified in support of An Act enabling cities and towns to stabilize rents and protect tenants (S.1299 / H.2103), legislation that would empower cities and towns to enact locally-needed rent stabilization and just cause eviction protections.

"It is no accident that at the same time that we are coming to Beacon Hill to advocate for rent control to stop the astronomical rise in rent prices, that we are simultaneously in the midst of a shelter crisis here in Massachusetts," said Mark Martinez, Housing Attorney at the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute.

"The housing crisis that we are facing is going to require a wide array of bold policy solutions, but rent control is the only thing that will provide immediate relief to renters and prevent the downward spiral of economic, social, physical, and mental health problems that stem from displacement and evictions," said Martinez.

Homes For All Mass said the legislation would allow cities and towns to stabilize rents by limiting rent increases to the rate of inflation with a cap at 5%. Owner-occupied buildings with four or fewer units would be exempted, as would new construction for five years. The legislation would also allow cities and towns to protect tenants by banning no-fault evictions and clarifying for tenants and landlords what qualifies as a legal reason to evict.

"In the three years since a new management company purchased my apartment, my rent has increased by nearly 79 percent," said Danvers resident Noel Lozada, a member of SEIU Local 509 who works in human services with developmentally delayed adults.

"My wages have not increased to match these costs, and I'm working 70-80 hours every week just to get by. I won't survive another three years of this, and many others are even worse off. We need rent stabilization now," Lozada said.

Lawmakers on Tuesday scheduled a hearing on rent control with a flurry of other legislative activity. The Legislature is also about to embark on a seven-week holiday recess without holding a hearing on Gov. Maura Healey's "urgent" $4.12 billion housing bond bill, which excluded rent control but laid out a string of other ideas.

But advocates who gathered Tuesday in support of multiple bills that would revive local option rent control, nearly 30 years after voters banned it, said that it is an essential tool to address the housing affordability crisis that has forced tenants out of their homes.

Legislation filed would allow cities and towns to prohibit landlords from raising rent over a predetermined percentage each year. Some housing advocates Tuesday recalled instances where their rents rose as high as 60 percent in a single year.

Rent control supporters had been eyeing an initiative petition, as a way to put a new law on the books without the Legislature's help, but their campaign to put the rent control question before voters dissolved last week.

Opponents with real estate interests argue that rent control inhibits housing production, discourages landlords from maintaining higher quality apartments, and drives down property tax revenue.

Material from the State House News Service was used in this report.

Follow staff reporter Jill Harmacinski on Twitter/X @EagleTribJill.

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