Massachusetts Blog

Housing Affordability in Boston

Housing Affordability in Boston

Boston’s growth has resulted in significant housing affordability challenges. Rent control will only make these challenges worse.


Boston Mayor Michelle Wu is exploring avenues to address the city’s housing affordability challenges. One approach she has raised is rent control despite state laws prohibiting local municipalities from implementing the flawed policy. Time and again, regardless of location, rent control tends to largely benefit a very few, typically wealthier individuals and not necessarily those in greatest need.


¨The only effective long-term fix to the housing scarcity challenge is to build more, housing-especially building less expensive housing in cities and neighborhoods where demand is high.¨

– Jenny Schuetz. Senior Fellow. Brookings Institution


Rent Control Doesn’t Work

The rent control experiment already took place in Cambridge in the 1980s. Ultimately, Massachusetts voters stepped in and backed a ballot initiative preventing other local governments from making the same mistake.

Once Cambridge moved away from rent control, property values surged, according to an analysis by MIT economists. In a second study, the same economists found “robust evidence that rent decontrol caused overall crime to fall by 16 percent… with the majority of the effect accruing through reduced property crime.

Elsewhere in the country, St. Paul is currently living through this mistake again, with construction projects being halted because a rent control ballot measure was adopted in 2021.


Boston should take heed of the shortcomings of rent control. It is an unsuccessful policy that only harms those it aims to help. Alternatives to rent control have been tested with success across the country. In Massachusetts, these include: 


Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program

The Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program (MRVP) helps low-income families meet their rental obligations with both a tenant-based and a project-based approach. Tenants pay between 30% and 40% of their net income towards rent, depending on tenant income, household size, utilities included and location.


Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT)

The Commonwealth’sRAFTprogram provides up to $7,000 per household to help preserve current housing or move to new housing. The program is designed to keep familes in stable housing situations when facing emergencies caused by loss of income, an increase in expenses or both.


Housing Choice Bill

The Housing Choice Billsigned into law in 2021 eases barriers to housing construction by lowering the number of votes needed within municipalities to enact zoning changes. It also mandates that municipalities build multifamily housing near MBTA stops. The initiative already has led to the construction of tens of thousands of homes and will lead to the construction of many more with less bureaucratic roadblocks along the way.


Support from the federal government can also help overcome Boston’s housing shortages. President Biden’s 2023 budget proposal released in March includes $50 billion for housing construction and supply to address existing market gaps and help stabilized housing prices in the long-term.



Rent control is an outdated concept. It benefits the very few—and not necessarily those in greatest need—at the expense of the larger society.



It is important for lawmakers to pursue alternatives such as voucher-based rental assistance for those in greater need to better address housing affordability.


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