Boston Mayor Michelle Wu put her mandate to address Boston’s housing crisis into action Thursday morning, announcing the formation of a new Rent Stabilization Advisory Committee composed of advocates and real estate industry figures.

The committee is charged with investigating how the city could stabilize communities hit hard by displacement and spiraling rents and home prices, and crafting compromise measures in time for the state legislature’s 2023 session. The committee will meet monthly, Wu said, and her office confirmed that its listening sessions will be open to the public and will have staff support from the Mayor’s Office of Housing and the mayor’s in-house policy team.

“Our renters are rent-burdened. it’s unsustainable how our families are having to scrape money together to make rent often at the expense of food security and healthcare,” Wu told a crowd at the Whittier Street Health Center.

Apartment rents in the region have rocketed past pre-COVID levels in recent months, as Banker & Tradesman reported last month, an increase experts blame in part on a drop-off in construction over the last three years.

Zillow pegged the Greater Boston median rent at $2,600 in 2021, a 14 percent jump year-over-year. CoStar research based on a survey of 220,000 market-rate properties in Eastern Massachusetts put asking rents at $2.70 per square foot, shattering an all-time record. Occupancy rates at large market-rate complexes in the urban core surveyed by The Collaborative Cos. had occupancy rates above 96 percent at year’s end.

The 23-member commission includes representation from a broad slice of city stakeholders. Advocates like City Life-Vida Urbana co-director Denies Matthews-Turner and Abunant Housing-MA board member Beyazmin Jimenez, affordable housing developers like Urban Edge CEO Emilio Dorcely, union representatives like North Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenters leader Joe Byrne, scholars like Harvard Joint Center for Housing director Chris Herbert and industry figures like Penguin Pizza owner and small landlord Dermot Doyne sit on the committee.

“We all deserve a home. it’s the center and connection of our schools and health. good jobs. our land. And we have an opportunity to shape what this looks like together,” New England United 4 Justice Executive Director Mimi Ramos said.

Three prominent for-profit real estate industry figures stand out: National Development managing director Brian Kavoogian, Colliers Vice President of Capital Markets Jeanne Pinado and Boston Residential Group CEO Kurtis Kemeny. The group does not include any designated representatives from commercial development trade group NAIOP-MA, the Greater Boston Association of Realtors or the Greater Boston Real Estate Board.

“I really appreciate the city’s effort to ensure there’s broad representation from industry and the advocacy community,” Kemeny said during Thursday’s press conference. “Rent stabilization can be defined in many ways and deserves careful consideration and thoughtful debate to create a toolkit of ideas the city can deploy.”

Wu made clear the committee’s remit will be broad, saying “there are no limits to what this group can discuss and put forward” and defining “rent stabilization” as everything from traditional curbs on rent levels or increases to different forms of subsidies. The committee’s solutions, she said, would complement her administration’s work to increase production of market-rate and affordable housing.

But Wu also made clear that she believes the city needs to have power to rein in rents, which a 1994 statewide ballot measure took away from cities, ending strict rent-control programs in Boston, Cambridge and elsewhere.

“The basic idea is that we should have policy tools to impact and influence rents among the many ways we’re trying to do to address our housing crisis,” she said.

Members of the city’s legislative delegation – Reps. Chynah Tyler and Nika Elugardo and Sen. Lydia Edwards – also spoke, voicing their support for the committee’s work and saying they would be ready to champion its efforts on Beacon Hill. State laws dating from an era of political tensions between Irish Catholic Bostonians and Protestant Yankees living elsewhere in the state mean many Boston laws must also be approved by state legislators before going into effect.

“I want to be clear what’s not up for debate: the mandate Mayor Wu received when she ran on rent control. She ran on that and won on that. it’s important to center that,” Edwards, who is currently also a city councilor, said. “It’s not up for debate that rents are out of control. It’s not up for debate that we’ve created this problem and need to fix this problem.”

Wu Names Real Estate Execs, Advocates to ‘Rent Stabilization’ Committee

by James Sanna time to read: 3 min