Is rent control the answer to Boston's housing crisis?

Is rent control the answer to Boston's housing crisis?

BOSTON — Finding a reasonably priced place to rent anywhere around Boston is tough.

"It's very expensive, compared to the amount you get paid when you work, and then with the cost of living, it's very hard to find," one man in Jamaica Plain told Boston 25 News.

One controversial approach to curbing the rising price of an apartment is rent control.

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Last week, it became law in Oregon. Now, some local activists are saying the same thing needs to be done around here. %

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Mike Leyba, of City Life/Vida Urbana, a housing advocacy group based in Jamaica Plain, said: "We are seeing a lot of pressure in the rental market, a lot of high rents, a lot of displacement."

Across the country, there's a renewed push for rent control, which generally sets caps on increases and strengthens protections against evictions.

"What is happening in Oregon, what was attempted in California, what's happening with tenants in Minnesota -- even in New York. There's a statewide effort to pass a statewide version of rent control, all of these efforts are part of a larger movement, in which communities and people are standing up," Leyba added.

Boston, Brookline and Cambridge had rent control programs up until 1994 when they were eliminated by a statewide referendum. %

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A bill prepared on Beacon Hill, "An Act Enabling Local Options for Tenant Protections," would return that power to cities and towns.

The bill's language is currently being finalized, and when that process is completed, it will be referred to a committee for a hearing.

"Rent control is one of the best ways we could actually stabilize the market," said Leyba. "This is not a time for being tepid. We need something that's strong."

Building owners feel they're being blamed for the housing crisis.

"There's certainly a problem with rental housing," said Doug Quattrochi, executive director of Mass Landlords. "But people think that if rents are high, the focus should be on the rents. There are systemic and contextual issues ... We are not permitting enough rental housing."

Quattrochi believes rent control doesn't address the real problem, which is supply. It's a situation made worse by zoning laws in many communities that frown on multi-family buildings.

With difficult zoning issues and harsh tenant landlord laws, Quattrochi believes Massachusetts is a difficult play for building owners to do business. %

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"By thinking we are creating better rental housing with rent control, we are really deluding ourselves, and we are missing an opportunity to fix much deeper problems," he said.

This effort comes as Zumper.com recently identified Boston as the fourth most expensive rental market in the country, with a median price of $2,390 for a one-bedroom unit.