With Prices Through the Roof, Where Can Renters Get Help to Keep One Over Their Heads?

The Boston City Council approved Mayor Michelle Wu's rent control proposal, but there are more steps to be taken before it can really help renters in the city

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Boston area renters continue to see significant rent increases—housing officials say there is help available.

Joe Sapiente moved from Chinatown to East Boston last February after he received notice he would have to pay more to renew his lease.

“It was a one bedroom, one bath 750 square feet My original rent was about $2,600 and lease renewal was in the 4,000s,” said Sapiente.

He said he tried to negotiate the amount, but the property manager told him, “This year we are expecting a higher demand for apartments, and we just wanted to be very competitive on the market.”

“In terms of tenants or constituents wanting to challenge that and speak up they are well within their right to say I don’t agree to this because there have been conditions in my unit that are not up to par based on the state sanitary code or the market rate for this community is x amount dollars,” said Danielle Johnson, deputy director of Boston’s Office of Housing stability.

She says they receive about 90 calls a day from renters in need of help.

“We have a few alternatives in our office that we try to utilize, one of those being our rental relief fund which provides financial assistance to tenants who are in arrears or need assistance with future rents because they just got a new job, haven’t received their first paycheck.”

When tenant-landlord negotiations fail, they can offer a mediator.

“We work with a community organization called Justice Start that helps us with those mediations and has conversations with the landlord and also with the tenant to come to a center point of ok the tenant may not be able to pay the $500 increase you are requesting but they can pay $250, is this something that you would accept?” said Johnson. “Tenants have more options than they think they do at times, and of course you may get the occasional landlord/broker who may not want to work with you on finding a resolve, but sometimes just having those conversations can be helpful.”

Boston City Councilor Kendra Lara serves as housing chair and says tackling the housing crisis requires a multi-pronged approach.

“Building housing takes a lot of time, really making sure the market stabilizes, especially as we are in a recession and the cost of building is going up, takes time so we don’t want to lose the people in our city. We really have to focus on anti-displacement and making sure we can keep people in their homes. And that looks like Renters Bill of Rights, making sure that renters know exactly what to expect. I think predictability is really big.”

“I think the primary reason for rent increases is inflation,” said Jordana Greenman, a lawyer who represents landlords in Massachusetts. She says in some cases landlords have not raised rent in several years and are now choosing to implement large increases to address rising costs. “Making sure you can pay the mortgage every month, making sure you can pay the water bill every month, and the tax bill. All of these things cost money.”

Wednesday, the Boston City Council sent Mayor Michelle Wu’s Home Rule Petition for rent stabilization to the state house for legislative approval.

“Because this concern that this rent control proposal might pass I think landlords especially in the city of Boston proper are extremely scared and they are doing whatever they need to do happens before this proposal is voted on at the state level.”

Councilor Lara says rising real estate costs are straining the rental market.

“Ultimately, it impacts everybody. When rents go up all of the speculative market goes awry and it’s not just the cost of the rental apartments that go up, it’s also the valuation of homes,” said Lara. “One of the biggest issues that we are seeing that its do difficult to purchase a home that people who are typically ready to buy a home are actually staying in the rental market longer and so if people aren’t able to buy homes they are staying in the rental market longer but these folks are also able to pay higher rents, it’s really squeezing out the bottom two thirds of the renters in the city in terms of what they can afford.”

Resources for renters:

Office of Housing Stability: https://www.boston.gov/departments/housing/office-housing-stability

Greater Boston Legal Services: https://www.gbls.org/

City Life/Vida Urbana: https://www.clvu.org/

The state legislature and the governor would still need to approve the home rule petition – so there still is a way to go before rent prices potentially come down in the city.
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