‘I have no place to go’: Demonstrators push for rent control legislation at State House


Maddie Barron

Protestors sitting outside of the State House.

By Maddie Barron, Magazine Editor & Assistant Opinion Editor

Residents from across Massachusetts met in front of the State House on Saturday to show support for proposed legislation that would allow cities the option to cap rent increases by five percent each year.

The bill, filed by State Representatives Samantha Montaño and Dave Rodgers, as well as State Senator Pat Jehlen, would also exempt landlords with four or fewer tenants and prevent no-fault evictions—where the landlord is not required to give tenants a reason for eviction.

Right to the City Boston and Homes for All Massachusetts organized the demonstration in defiance of rent costs in the state, specifically emphasizing high tenant costs in Boston largely due to 1994 legislation that banned rent control laws in the state of Massachusetts.

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu proposed a similar bill on Jan. 18, except rent prices would be capped at 10 percent per year, and new properties would be exempt from the regulation for up to 15 years. This proposal prompted criticism from Mattapan resident Betty Lewis, who attended the demonstration. 

“[Wu’s] measure is too lenient,” she said in an interview with The Beacon. “It’s not good enough for the people.”

Lewis said she hopes the large turnout of about 100 people will get the five percent cap bill passed. 

Kavish Gandhi, a Cambridge renter struggling with high rent prices, said in an interview with The Beacon that the turnout was amazing after almost three years of small-scale rallies due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Both Lewis and Gandhi felt the turnout was indicative of what the people of Boston want. 

The Greater Boston Housing Report Card of 2022 reports that almost half of renters in the Greater Boston area are cost burdened and ranks Boston fourth for highest rent in the country. 

Gandhi said that his rent increases four to six percent every year, and now about one-third of his monthly income goes to paying his rent. 

Attendants of the rally said rising rent prices are only getting worse and mostly affecting marginalized communities. 

“The communities we work with are constantly facing rent increases, facing the stress of displacement, evictions,” said Grace Holley, co-director of communications at City Life/Vida Urbana, in an interview with The Beacon. “It’s day after day, year after year.”

A City Life/Vida Urbana report found a higher number of eviction filings in neighborhoods predominantly occupied by people of color, according to data from Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning. 

“70 percent of all Boston eviction filings occurred in census tracts where the majority of renters are people of color,” the report said, adding that these neighborhoods only consist of just under half of all Boston rental housing. 

Roner Remy, state organizer of City Life/Vida Urbana, said he is disheartened by efforts to push community members out of Boston. 

“There are folks who have been living here for generations, and now they found out they can’t afford to stay here anymore,” he told The Beacon. “The community they built is still here.” 

Remy shared his own experience being priced out of Boston because of high rent prices. The stress of these financial pressures took a heavy toll on his mental health, he said. He felt guilty for not being able to provide for his family despite working full-time to support them.

“I was suicidal,” he said. “I felt I was not enough. I believe you should be responsible and you should provide [for your family], and I couldn’t do that. I was ashamed.” 

“Imagine you have to make a decision,” Remy continued. “Do I pay the rent or do I eat?” 

Lewis emphasized the need for leaders like Wu and newly-inaugurated Governor Maura Healey to address housing for people with disabilities and those struggling with addiction—both of which Lewis identifies with. 

“[People struggling with addiction] are human,” she said. “We need a home to stay in—housing is a human right.” 

Lewis stated that she is mostly concerned for herself and fellow members of her community who need stability to get back on their feet.

“My rent is too high,” she said. “I can’t afford it. It makes me wonder where I’m going to be at. If they don’t get this measure passed, then I don’t know what I’m going to do, I have no place to go. I have no money saved.”

Lewis and many of the activists donned matching neon green shirts in a show of solidarity and defiance, displaying the bold message—“we shall not be moved.” 

As the demonstration concluded, the sea of neon dwindled, and residents returned to the homes they are fighting to keep.