PREPARED FOR THE JOINT COMMITTEE ON HOUSING, JANUARY 14, 2020.
Good afternoon. Thank you Chair Crighton and thank you Chair Honan. For the record my name is Mike Connolly and I have the honor of representing parts of Cambridge and Somerville, and I’m very grateful to be here today with my colleague Rep. Nika Elugardo and several of the seventeen other co-sponsors of our bill, H.3924, the Tenant Protection Act.
In addition to this bill, I want to express strong support for all of the other bills that I’ve filed or co-sponsored on today’s agenda. I also want to say thank you to the Chairs for working with everyone here to ensure the public was heard first today — I know many of the activists and organizers that we work in partnership with appreciate the efforts you and the committee staff have made to ensure this hearing is as inclusive as possible, and I also want to thank the many hundreds of people who showed up to speak or be present today.
As a lifelong renter, as someone who was raised in public housing that was built by the Commonwealth, and now as a tenant living in the City of Cambridge with no clear path to ownership in the district I represent — I can personally say that what we are facing is truly a housing emergency. “Crisis” is not a strong enough word. I think you can tell by all of the municipal officials who are here today that this is truly an emergency.
We can see evidence of this emergency every day. We see it in the people who are sleeping in doorways along Mass Ave in Cambridge or living in tents or under bridges in Somerville. We see it in statistics that show family homelessness has doubled in our Commonwealth over the past decade. And here at the State House, we see this emergency in the many constituents who visit or call our offices when they’re facing economic eviction and displacement from the communities they love.
To address this emergency, we need a comprehensive approach. For me, that means smart, regional housing production strategies combined with strong tenant protection options and new tools for raising revenue, such as real estate transfer fees to help fund local affordable housing programs.
Unfortunately, the current state-wide prohibition on local rent control, M.G.L. Ch. 40P, makes it nearly impossible for our municipal officials to truly address this ongoing emergency. All too often, we see corporate landlords and real estate speculators clearing out entire buildings, sometimes looking to double or triple someone’s rent overnight or evicting people with no good cause whatsoever.
The purpose of the Tenant Protection Act is to provide municipalities with a variety of flexible options to help address the housing emergency in a locally appropriate manner. To be clear, if we pass this legislation, all we will be doing is providing our municipal officials with a menu of options that they can then further consider to help stop displacement.
This legislation will empower our municipal officials to bring everyone to the table — that means renters and owners alike — to help craft protections against displacement that make sense on the local level. Our bill offers a variety of options for rent stabilization, rent regulation, just cause eviction, and condominium conversion protections, as well as options for providing notice to tenants facing eviction and offering ways to help tenants manage the burden of upfront move-in costs. Under our bill, all owner-occupied buildings of three units or less would be automatically exempt, and municipalities would be further empowered to craft additional exemptions.
I applaud this committee for twice reporting out favorably the Governor’s Housing Choice bill over the course of the past two years. And I would ask now that we all work together and work with the many advocates, tenants, and municipal officials that you’re hearing from today to report favorably on the Tenant Protection Act. I believe that if we are going to say that we want to give communities the choice to more easily zone for multifamily housing near transit, then we can work together to give communities the choice to protect tenants facing displacement — and we can give communities the choice to implement real estate transfer fees to fund local affordable housing programs, too.
In conclusion I will add that in the face of worsening inequality and an unbelievable real estate boom, and in the wake of decades of austerity on the federal level and the state level, the idea of rent control is clearly making a comeback. Last February, Oregon adopted the nation’s first state-wide rent control law. Then in June, New York State passed a comprehensive set of tenant protections. And in October, California became the third state in the past year to take major action to protect tenants. We believe our state could be next, and we look forward to working together to advance this bill.