January 2022 was all about policy, with the team working to oppose rent control, right of first refusal, and a proposed eviction moratorium in Worcester. Also, we served our lawsuit against the Department of Housing and Community Development and prepared for that hearing.
Housing partisanship appeared to run rampant in January, beginning with a theatrical hearing on rent control and right of first refusal. Massachusetts operates on a two-year session. Two years ago, in January 2020, landlords arrived first but were made by Senator Crighton to speak last, and to an empty room. It was the same this year with Senator Jehlen. Landlords waited for over four hours to speak.
MassLandlords filed testimony opposed to local control of housing policy, calling attention to studies of Massachusetts under rent control. The most damning argument against rent control is that people of color, who represented 24% of Cambridge, Boston, and Brookline residents, occupied only 12% of rent controlled units. When rent control was lifted, this disparate impact disappeared.
The reason for this is systemic (as opposed to personal) racism. People of color have been unfairly, disproportionately redlined out of credit building opportunities, excluded from educational opportunities and therefore income opportunities, and targeted for enforcement of drug law and evictions. Landlords under rent control waited for the best possible applicant. Unfairly, such applicants were disproportionately wealthy and/or white. This real data from Massachusetts is a good example of how housing policy requires smart people – renter and landlord advocates alike – to work together.
But renter advocates seem to have a blind spot for housing providers and relish in running us over. For example, I emailed my own city councilor, Etel Haxhiaj, to stop her proposed eviction moratorium for the City of Worcester. I said, “Now is the time to increase communication.” Her reply does not merit inclusion in this newsletter. Council Haxhiaj has shut down the WTG Housing Group, the primary venue in Worcester at which landlords and renters formally collaborated.
Well fine, if renter advocates won’t talk with us, we’ll talk with judges. We know how to create better rental housing. The data can be used to sue for protections promised by the fair housing laws.
Switching gears: You may know I trained to be a rocket scientist (Massachusetts Institute of Technology MS 2006). In my spare time (five minutes each day) I have followed the work of the James Webb Space Telescope team, an international effort decades in the making. As of January 24, we (humanity) have deployed a massive telescope perfectly, one that may show us evidence of life elsewhere. (Animation.) It goes to show that when we work together, across language and ideological barriers, we can accomplish incredible things for the benefit of all.