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Rent control has been tried and repealed many times here.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.

Alt: A handwritten sample page from a Cambridge Rent Control Board meeting, dated February 16, 1994, with members listed as Cohn, Connor, Jacks, Darwin, with notes on appeals for rent increases.

Rent control boards stopped improvements and basic repairs.

Rental property owners were beholden to rent boards. Rent control boards’ authority began with a mandatory registration for all rent-controlled properties. Property owners paid a fee to register. Once registered, landlords could apply to the rent control board for permission to increase rent. Without permission, no increase was allowed, not…

A scan of a property at 503 Blue Hill Avenue in Roxbury shows a property with four residential units reported. The three-story building has been boarded up. Information to the side of the photograph reveals the auditor found the building to be in fair condition, tax-delinquent and not city-owned.]

Building maintenance went downhill.

Landlords feared the rent board. Landlords were expected to pay for repairs upfront. Afterwards, they would present receipts to the rent board. The rent board was under no obligation to say yes. Many landlords were wrongly delayed or denied. Landlord Jim Regan remembered 35 years later.  “A fridge would break…

The coversheet of MAPC's analysis of state aid 1980 cherry sheet estimates was available at the UMass Amherst public library.

Towns lost tax revenue.

Local property assessments went down. Run-down buildings are worth less than nice buildings. Low rent buildings are worth less than high rent buildings. Assessed values went down for both reasons. City tax assessments shrank to match. Rent-controlled properties became less valuable, appraised lower and generated less taxes.   Lower local tax…

A man comforts his wife who is racked with sobs, face contorted as she sits and hears the rent control board's guilty verdict.

Affordable housing and its providers disappeared.

Hong Lu was forced to rent rooms at below cost. The nonprofit Cambridge YMCA rented rooms for $450. Because Hong spoke English as a second language, she could not advocate adequately for herself before the rent board. She was ordered to rent her rooms for $250 (around $600 in 2023),…

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