NOVEMBER 10, 2023
Dear Friends and Supporters —
The results of our volunteer survey and signature gathering tally are in — and I am proud to report our campaign to put a rent control question on the 2024 presidential ballot has gathered some 10,175 signatures over the past six weeks.
Thank you to the hundreds of volunteers who showed up on Election Day or who went out to a community event, a farmers market or a grocery store to collect signatures with us in recent weeks. Many thanks to our Organizing Director, Art Gordon, and to Senator Jamie Eldridge, Councilors Willie Burnley, Jr., Ben-Ewen Campen, and Quinton Zondervan, to the Massachusetts Alliance of HUD Tenants, the Harvard Graduate Student Union, UAW, the Alliance of Cambridge Tenants, and to our volunteer coordinators, our dedicated drivers Bill and Sam, and to each and every one of the more than 500 elected officials, individuals and organizations who joined in support of our campaign.
As a longtime renter, and as a lead sponsor of legislation to lift the ban on rent control, I can say that every time I witness a voter take a moment to sign our petition, and every time I connect with a new volunteer, it is truly meaningful for me. It is democracy in action, and each of the thousands of actions that have occurred over the course of this campaign have been part of a march toward housing justice.
I’m proud to say we’ve collected signatures from Cape Cod to the Berkshires and from more than 100 cities and towns across Massachusetts. To put our tally in perspective, it takes 2,000 signatures to run for Congress and 10,000 signatures to run for Governor in Massachusetts. We organized a significant grassroots signature drive, starting from scratch, with just one full-time staffer and a small handful of part-time signature gathers and volunteer coordinators.
We held our own against the real estate industry. After filing our petition on August 2, five teams of attorneys were hired by industry and conservative political groups to argue in opposition to legal certification — and yet, on September 6, Attorney General Andrea Campbell certified that our proposal to lift the ban on rent control was constitutionally legal. We thank the Attorney General and her staff for their work, and we also thank Cambridge attorney Gerry McDonough, et al., who worked with us in support of certification.
We were buoyed by public opinion. Poll after poll after poll affirmed our understanding that Massachusetts voters want to lift the ban on rent control. With seed funding from Housing Is A Human Right, a national nonprofit that’s been involved with several successful rent control campaigns, we commissioned a message-testing poll that found Massachusetts voters aren’t likely to be fooled by real estate industry propaganda on this issue. Voters understand we are facing a severe housing emergency, and they think it makes sense to empower municipal officials to bring everyone to the table to pass tenant protections that can work on the local level.
Above all, we were driven by this moment of unprecedented housing emergency. Double-digit rent increases continue to drive displacement across Massachusetts. The average rent on a 3-bedroom in Boston went up by 23% in just the past year. Our nation-leading Right To Shelter law is at a tipping point, interest rates are stymying housing production, and economists are finally acknowledging that rent control is good policy, especially when paired with complementary strategies. The City of Boston passed a rent stabilization home rule petition earlier this year, the City of Somerville is actively considering a home rule petition, and efforts are underway to advance home rule petitions in other municipalities as well.
Unfortunately, we faced opposition from the Homes For All coalition — which includes City Life/Vida Urbana, Lynn United, SEIU state leadership, and Field First, a progressive consulting firm. Leaders of the coalition spoke out against our decision to file the petition and called on elected officials, donors, and local leaders to not support our effort. They maintained that rent control cannot win at the ballot box in 2024, and they publicly demanded that we withdraw our petition.
Understandably, progressives were divided on how to proceed. Our suggestion to Homes for All was that we all work together to collect the 74,574 required signatures by November 22, and then, from a position of strength, we could collectively make a final decision on whether to go to the ballot later next year. In the meantime, we could use the petition as an organizing tool and as a point of leverage with the legislature. That would have afforded us more flexibility and a bigger opportunity for winning rent control right now. But it was not to be.
After consulting with our most active campaign leaders, this evening we are making the difficult decision to suspend our campaign. Some individual supporters and organizations, such as the Mass. Alliance of HUD Tenants, may decide to continue collecting signatures through November 22. Art Gordon continues to be available to pick up petitions from our volunteers.
On Tuesday at 11 am, the legislature’s Joint Committee on Housing will hear testimony on the Tenant Protection Act, the bill for which our ballot petition was modeled on, along with several other landlord-tenant related bills. Given where we stand with our signature drive, I feel it is incumbent upon me to share all of this information as quickly as possible. Members of the public are welcome to sign up to testify in person or virtually at Tuesday’s hearing via this form. Also, on Tuesday at 6 pm, the Somerville City Council has a Legislative Matters Committee hearing on the city's rent stabilization home rule petition.
While this isn’t the outcome we hoped for with our petition, I am more confident than ever that if given the opportunity to do so, Massachusetts voters will elect to lift the ban on rent control. At this point, however, it makes sense to focus on Tuesday’s State House hearing on rent control bills and other landlord-tenant matters.
Thank you, once again, for your support of this effort.
Yours in service,
Mike Connolly, Chair
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