Bill Aimed at Protecting Renters Needs Legislative Approval

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh signed The Jim Brooks Community Stabilization Act on Oct. 6, after the Boston City Council voted to pass it on Oct. 4. The bill requires landlords to notify the city whenever they serve an eviction notice, and to provide tenants with information and resources about their legal rights.

Wages for middle and lower income Bostonians have been largely stagnant, but  Boston rent prices have been climbing steadily since the turn of the decade, pushing an unknown number of tenants out of their homes when their rent outpaces their pay. As housing companies and property investment firms race to cash in on the city’s growing professional class, neighborhoods such as East Boston and Chinatown are seeing their working class residents gentrified out of the area..

Walsh and the city council are hoping the Jim Brooks Act will help curb this trend.  

The Jim Brooks Act  requires landlords who own more than six rental units to inform the city when they intend to evict tenants; the city will then give the people facing eviction information on their housing rights, and guide them towards community advocacy groups who might be able to help them.

The legislation also lets the city track evictions and their causes, streamlining access to information formerly only found in Housing Court records. Though accurate city eviction records can’t be found, City Life/Vida Urbana — a nonprofit housing advocacy group — told The Boston Globe in late August that they worked to resist 66 mass evictions since 2012, most of them occurring since 2015. This is only the perspective from one of the many housing advocacy groups in the city; several more evictions in the value-rising neighborhoods of Boston may be untold.

The act and its requirements received overwhelming support from the City Council, although some council members, while in favor of the Jim Brooks Act, noted that more needs to be done to protect tenants.

Councilor and mayoral candidate Tito Jackson said that this act is merely a stepping stone, and more needs to be done for Boston’s lower and middle income residents. “Is Boston great for everybody?” Jackson asked rhetorically before the vote. “Eighty-seven percent of the housing that’s being built… is for the top 20 percent and does nothing to deal with the fact that 50 percent of people in the city of Boston make $35,000 or less.”  

During the hearing, Councilor Annissa Essaibi-George said landlords who use their positions to try and raise the price of housing for their own benefit need to be confronted. “We know that the top evictors in this city are actually some of our largest owners of subsidized and affordable housing. We have not addressed that issue.”

As the bill heads to the legislature, the advocacy groups that helped bring it this far continue their work on the streets to resist more evictions. On Friday, October 6, City Life/Vida Urbana hosted a rally to oppose a no-fault mass eviction order by a landlord in Revere.

Meanwhile, Chinese Progressive Action, an advocacy group in the rapidly gentrifying neighborhood of Chinatown, hosted a march alongside the community’s land trust on Thursday, October 5.

“In the Greater Boston area, there are limited housing options which are affordable or reasonably priced available. Yet, more and more housing units are being changed into short term rentals,” Chinese Progressive Action said in a released statement. “There are more luxury developments entering the community looking to make a profit through short term rental services.”

Though progress is being made in the struggle to keep what reasonably priced housing there is left in Boston, the steps being taken are largely reactionary rather than proactive. As the city government has attested, “[The Jim Brooks] Act does not call for rent control and does not make rent control any more or less likely to happen in the future.” Landlords still have just cause to evict tenants who protest paying rent spikes.

During the hearing, Councilor Jackson, said the city must take into consideration the needs of the working class to avoid crises such as these. “We must, as a body, step forward and not only make plans for the richest of those. It is about time… that we stand up and do something for the majority of the people.”

Zach Mobrice is an intern at Spare Change News. A native of Rhode Island, Zach studies journalism at Roger Williams University.

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