Rent Control Helped Some of Us and Hurt the Rest of Us

Dive deeper into the facts and history

To understand rent control, we must look to Massachusetts.

The housing crisis came to Massachusetts quickly and has been here for a century.

Rent control has been tried and repealed many times here.

The starts and stops of rent control have given us deep understanding of its benefits and costs.

Here, we offer a pictorial and narrative review of the history of rent control in Massachusetts.

This site provides context for debate over the far-reaching effects – many unintended – of rent control policies.

Black and white photo of Los Angeles in 1904, capturing several large homes and buildings, with rolling foothills in the distant background.

The housing crisis started in 1904.

1904: Los Angeles invents zoning to exclude by race. In 1904 Los Angeles passed the nation’s first land-use ordinance. This prohibited industrial uses in residential districts. The intention of this thinly veiled racist ordinance was to keep Chinese residents, who owned and operated laundries, out of white neighborhoods. 1910: Baltimore…

A sepia-toned image of a row of four-story residential buildings on Mt. Vernon Street in Boston, taken in March 1920. The buildings are in the background; a large snowbank is in the foreground.

Rent control was enacted in 1920.

1920 Chapter 578 of the Acts of 1920 prohibited rent increases of more than 25% for most rentals.  Increases for extenuating circumstances, such as major repairs, could be appealed.  This expired in 1923.  1942 The Emergency Price Control Act passed nationally, enacting rent stabilization in areas designated as “defense rental…

A street-level photograph of the building that encompasses 70-75 Beacon Street, Massachusetts. It is a multi-story gray stone building with dark gray slate roof, and trees along the sidewalk.]

Renters who had an apartment saved money.

A good apartment could cost less than $1,200 per month. In 1994, the New York Times wrote an article about the voter referendum that repealed rent control. Senior citizen Joan Shelzi rented an apartment in what she called a “good neighborhood” in Cambridge. Under rent control, she paid $579 a…

Judge Ruth Abrams wears old fashioned cravat and jacket with a bowl haircut. Prince Frederik wears a suit, tie and gold wedding band, and moustache and goatee. Ken Reeves wears glasses and a suit and stands in front of protestor signs as he talks with protestors.

Renters who needed to move couldn’t qualify.

Landlords waited longer before approving an application. In 1985, Finnish economics scholar Heikki Loikkanen analyzed rent-control policies.  This paper predicted the ranges within which landlords would leave units vacant.  His detailed graph shows that landlords under rent control hold units vacant longer waiting for the perfect applicant.  When prices fall…

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