This month’s letter focuses on the looming return of rent control to Massachusetts.
In our Commonwealth, issues of major importance are decided by simple majority. There are roughly ten times as many renters as there are landlords. When it comes to rental housing policy, landlords are a distinct economic minority.
The truth about elections is that money also matters. The Center for Responsive Politics found that, while money can’t buy elections, 86% of the top spenders in elections from 2000 to 2016 won their seat. Elections and policy discussions require advertising, travel, staff, and compliance. Making policy is expensive.
Who spends the most money influencing Massachusetts housing policy? Consider that a 501(c)3 nonprofit pays no income tax, no sales tax, and no real estate tax if it owns rental units. But they can still make money and hire and pay staff upwards of $400,000 a year.
Under IRS regulations, a housing nonprofit can spend 20% of its revenue on lobbying for or against specific numbered bills. And generic policy discussions are not lobbying. City Life/Vida Urbana had 2017 revenue of $1,064,338; MetroHousing Boston had $147,836,461.
These nonprofits have legitimate purposes. But sadly, they have influenced the wording of the Boston Metro Mayor’s Coalition to our illegitimate exclusion. The Coalition has announced their intent to pursue the ideas behind Just Cause Eviction Rent Control. They have added their idea of a Tenant Right of First Refusal, discussed elsewhere in this edition.
There are legitimate problems in Massachusetts. Homelessness is a systemic issue for us. Displacement is driving many seniors and disabled individuals far from their neighborhoods and support networks. The nonprofits say Just Cause Eviction and Tenant Right of First Refusal are the only answer.
Did we mention that Tenant Right of First Refusal grants nonprofits the right to purchase your properties, too? Combined, these two policies are legalized extortion. They will make it impossible for you to terminate a tenancy. If you want to sell out of the business entirely, they will make sure you sell to them and only them.
We have a lot of great collaborative answers. We’re piloting a new program in Worcester that, as of time of writing, looks ready to give homes to four chronically homeless individuals for almost no money with landlords’ eager and willing participation. There are real solutions here.
But without your support, we cannot afford to give our two cents every time a renter nonprofit is giving theirs. Please join today. Or if you are already a member, please become a property rights supporter. The next legislative session starts in January, and all that stands between us and disaster is a simple majority.