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Thursday, March 30, 2023

Boston rent control, BPDA votes teed up for this week

The Boston City Council is barreling toward two high-profile votes this week on rent control and the future of the BPDA, setting up a test for two top Wu administration priorities.

“The goal is to put both of these up for a vote,” City Council Government operations Chair Ricardo Arroyo told the Herald on Monday.

These are two of Mayor Michelle Wu’s top priorities — topics she ran on in her 2021 mayoral campaign and also touted in her State of the City speech in January as she laid out her priorities for the year.

More or less set in stone is the fact that the council will be voting on abolishing and reforming the Boston Planning & Development Agency. Arroyo has on the council’s agenda a committee report recommending passage in a very lightly amended form following a couple of hearings.

The proposal just has a technical tweak about timing from what Wu originally put forward.

This is part of what was initially Wu’s call to “abolish the BPDA,” and though the bill uses that language, her officials seem to have backed away from it. The BPDA high-ups who attended a hearing on the matter last week pitched it to the council as more of a “consolidation” — a bookkeeping maneuver that would combine the two wings of the organization under one banner while eliminating some old urban-renewal rules.

The actual shifting of planners from under that quasi-independent agency to a new city department won’t really happen in earnest until next year’s budget cycle, officials said.

There’s no committee report ready on rent control, but Arroyo said he intends to have one by Wednesday.

The proposal is seeking to cap year-over-year rent increases at 6% plus consumer price index increases, to a max of 10%. The rule as originally proposed would carve out exemptions for new construction and some small landlords, as well as strengthening protections against evictions.

It immediately took fire from some activists and councilors on the left who said the cap is too loose to help anyone, and from others from the right who said it’s a failed policy — statewide voters banned it by referendum in 1995 — that would deter housing production.

But Arroyo, who’s influential among the more leftward councilors, said he doesn’t expect to be bringing it to the floor with any sweeping amendments, and the ongoing horse-trading is just in the details to maximize votes.

“This already seems to be the compromise bill,” Arroyo said of Wu’s proposal.

The council had, by its standards, a short and staid working session on rent control on Monday in which Wu administration officials answers a few questions and a few members of the centrist bloc of the council suggested some changes aimed at helping small landlords.

One notable element of both of these proposals is that they’re what’s called home-rule petitions. That means they need to get the votes of seven of the 13 councilors, and then the mayor’s signature, and then the approval of both chambers of the state Legislature before final sign-off from the governor.

Beacon Hill is famously inhospitable to any home-rule petition of much significance, though Wu does have the ear of multiple influential members of both houses including Senate Housing Chair Lydia Edwards and House Ways & Means Chair Aaron Michlewitz.

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