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Calamity ahead? Wu touts rent control vote even as she ignores big drop in residential construction
At a press conference Wednesday, a buoyant Mayor Michelle Wu took a victory lap, and the local media was happy to oblige.
The City Council had just voted to send the Boston mayor’s plan to slap a 10 percent cap on rent hikes to the State House, where it will now have to pass muster to go into effect.
“The city of Boston needs the tools to address our housing crisis,” Wu told reporters.
But what should have been the biggest question of the day - the potential impact of rent control on already faltering residential construction in Boston - went unanswered and wasn’t even really asked.
Maybe it isn’t all the surprising. Wu has simply ignored the issue since we first reported the big drop in residential construction back in early January, while city officials have done their best to downplay it.
When it comes to rent control, a true believer: Boston Mayor Michelle Wu
Sure, Wu gave cursory nod or two on the need to continue to build new housing, though it was not very convincing.
Boston’s mayor clearly sees rent control as the centerpiece of her plans to prevent families from being priced out of the city - and that’s problematic.
Boston has suffered, for decades now, from a chronic shortage of apartments and condos, with the business community, housing advocates and academic experts united in pushing for more construction.
To be fair, the falloff in new apartment and condo construction, which began in the second half of 2022, is in no small way the result of the jump in interest rates and a pullback by banks and other lenders.
But the mere prospect of rent control has been enough to spook some developers and investors.
Wu may have scored a win Wednesday. But it will likely prove to be a pyrrhic one if it ultimately results in fewer apartments getting built in a housing starved city.
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Sustainable news organizations like Contrarian Boston need support to deliver the kind of insider news you value. While some content will remain free, starting March 15th the majority of CB’s content will be available by paid subscription only. It’s a big step for us, and we can’t take it without you. We hope you will continue to be a Contrarian. . . . just like us.
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Rent control referendum ahead? New poll points to likely path for activists looking to cap rents
An overhyped sideshow.
That’s the best way to describe the Boston City Council’s vote Wednesday to give a green light to Wu’s plan bring back rent control.
Like the council itself, the vote is barely relevant, obscuring where the real battle over the lightning rod issue will likely play itself out: at ballot boxes across the state come 2024.
In fact, real estate groups are already bracing for a potentially epic statewide referendum battle on the controversial issue, and for good reason.
A new poll shows a lopsided support statewide in favor of bringing back rent control, with 65 percent of likely voters saying they either “strongly supporting” or “somewhat support” Boston Mayor Michelle Wu’s plan to put a 10 percent cap on rent increases.
“We fully anticipate, if (rent control) is not successful in the Legislature, the process will flow towards a 2024 ballot initiative,” Allison Drescher, president of the Small Properties Owners Association, told Contrarian Boston.
In the meantime, the council’s vote sends Wu’s plan on to Beacon Hill, where it awaits a much more uncertain fate.
The more moderate leaning House is seen as a major roadblock to any rent control bill making it through the Legislature.
And that likely makes a statewide ballot question the best - and possibly only - bet for rent control supporters.
In other news, Wu’s plan to dismantle City Hall’s development arm also moves forward
Mayor Michelle Wu has campaigned for years on the idea of demolishing the Boston Planning & Development Agency, all but characterizing it as a rogue government agency.
However, after initially balking at an earlier meeting, the City Council on Wednesday reversed course and agreed to give her plan a green light.
Now it will go to the State House, which will have a final say on her proposal, with the BPDA a quasi state agency.
Oh yeah, and the BPDA board, which last month tabled Wu’s plan to dismantle the agency in a major embarrassment for the mayor, still has to sign off as well.
All eyes now are on the BPDA board’s agenda for its March meeting, slated to be held next week.
Will the second time be the charm for Wu’s plan?
State of darkness: Progressive governor, mayor, same old runaround on government transparency
Massachusetts has the dubious distinction of being one of the least transparent states in the country.
Our public records laws are anemic and we are saddled with an insider political culture that revels in its power to make decisions behind closed doors.
And it apparently doesn’t matter which party is in power, because it’s always the same old game, as recent decisions by Gov. Maura Healey and Boston Mayor Michelle Wu highlight.
Healey talked a good game on GBH’s Boston Public Radio about transparency in an interview back in December, saying she wouldn’t claim an exemption from public records requests related to the governor’s office, allowed under current law.
Flip flopper on government transparency: Gov. Maura Healey
But not long after, Healey made a mockery of her earlier pledge of openness, with her office claiming just such an exemption, contends Andrew Quemere, who writes The Mass Dump newsletter, and who has been all over the story.
Healey is also now claiming that the records of past gubernatorial administrations will also remain off-limits to the press and public. We are talking about how past governors dealt with T safety issues and everything else under the sun.
For her part, the Wu administration has just been hit with a lawsuit after all but spurning a request for emails by a landlord group trying to get more information on how the city’s rent control study panel was formed.
Battling government corruption and letting in the sunlight was a key battle cry for the original Progressive Movement back in the early 1900s.
Today’s progressives too often appear long on heavy handed ideology, while short on basic government openness and accountability.
Time for a history lesson, perhaps?
You read it here first
Contrarian Boston stories are becoming quite popular among other media outlets - and that’s just fine with us!
Our March 1 piece on State Auditor Diana DiZoglio launching a probe of the beleaguered T was cited by State House News Service in a story that ran March 2 in the Globe and other publications.
The Globe’s Feb. 22 story on budding opposition in Brookline to the MBTA Communities housing law was nice, but it was even better when we first reported on the issue on Feb 16.
Brookline News startup preparing for liftoff
By Mark Pickering
The drive to create a nonprofit news organization in Brookline is gaining momentum, with plans for an April launch.
And in a big step forward, the Brookline News startup has just posted an ad on the publication MassterList calling for a founding editor.
Last October, the startup’s steering committee moved to incorporate the publication as a nonprofit. The co-chairs are Ellen Clegg, former editor of The Boston Globe editorial page, and Julie Rafferty, a news veteran who went on to serve as communications dean at Harvard’s School of Public Health. All are Brookline residents.
“We are in the process of interviewing candidates for editor and intend to launch with a newsletter in April, with a website to follow,” Clegg told Contrarian Boston. “We're gratified that there is community support for local news in Brookline.”
She said that the publication is not out to reinvent the Brookline Tab. On the other hand, the job ad looks to the basics of community journalism, including coverage of the schools, town government and politics, housing and economic development, feature stories on businesses, and arts and entertainment.
Last spring, Gannett stopped printing about 20 weekly papers. As reported by Contrarian Boston, these included the Brookline and Newton Tabs along with the Waltham News Tribune and Watertown Tab. Gannett turned the related websites over to regional coverage. The chain is the largest newspaper publisher in the U.S., by circulation.
“We want professionally reported and edited news,” she told the Brookline High School paper, The Cypress, “We want to have boots on the ground in the community, to be everywhere. We want to reflect the many voices that are part of public debate.”
Clegg is co-authoring a book on the future of journalism that looks at, among other things, ways to cut down on the spread of news deserts. Right here in Massachusetts, Gannett’s trashing of its weeklies put a spotlight on that problem.
“Local news is in crisis,” says the description of Clegg’s upcoming book on Beacon Press. The co-author is Dan Kennedy, a Northeastern University professor who pens the Media Nation blog. The book would look at situations around the U.S. where news startups successfully found seed money and community support.
Other founding board members of the Brookline News include Colette Phillips, CEO of Colette Phillips Communications; Iris Adler, former executive director for programming at WBUR (90.9-FM); Irene Sege, a Boston Globe veteran and communications specialist; and Fred Perry, businessman and co-founder of the Brookline Greenspace Alliance. All are Brookline residents.
The Brookline News playbook calls for an expected budget of $500,000 to $600,000 per year that would pay for the editor, two reporters, and printing. Funding would come from:
· Foundation grants, at 20 percent,
· Major donors, at 40 percent,
· Voluntary reader donations, at 20 percent,
· And local and regional advertisers, at 20 percent.
The advertisement for the Brookline News founding editor paints an ambitious view of what the operation would become. One goal is “to train a next generation of journalists. Another is to work with other local news outlets to develop “a support network to share start-up advice and journalistic, business, and fundraising best practices”
Following the Gannett meltdown, two nonprofit newspapers have already sprouted up in Marblehead and Concord.
Mark Pickering is a veteran of the local news business, having worked on the business desk and the opinion pages of the Boston Herald.
Why Contrarian Boston will require paid subscriptions to access all content starting March 15th
We launched Contrarian Boston in November 2021 with the hope of shaking things up a bit.
Tired of what we saw as conformist local journalism, we were intent on filling a void in our local media ecosystem by offering critical, consistent, common-sense, and fair coverage of our local corporate, governmental, and media institutions.
At Contrarian Boston, we have focused our coverage on the issues that demand more thoughtful reporting. Reflecting our journalistic background, Contrarian Boston has indeed focused on regional development, real estate and housing issues.
But we’ve also tackled other stories, such as our crumbling transportation infrastructure, our changing energy needs, our underperforming educational system, and the rise of ideological extremists in our state political parties.
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Our list of potential stories is overflowing with tips from readers, more than a few of whom we have gotten to know over the past 15 months. Our stories and reporting have been cited by The Boston Globe, Boston Herald, CommonWealth Magazine, and State House News Service.
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Sincerely, Scott Van Voorhis
Great point - and not just in Boston. More than a few suburban towns have downtowns with at last one or two empty or half empty buildings.
Thanks for your take here. Agreed that people from all over the world come to live in Boston, which is why new supply is so crucial to prevent an even greater run on older properties. But I also think you have hit a key point: Boston can't do this alone. There needs to be statewide zoning reform of the type California has been forced to adopt. We are just a decade behind, if that.