State House Hearing on Jim Brooks Act Draws Massive Crowd

The Massachusetts General Court held a hearing on Tuesday, January 30, where its Joint Committee on the Judiciary heard two hours of testimony regarding Boston’s Jim Brooks Stabilization Act. Present were about 100 housing activists, including members of advocacy group City Life/Vida Urbana, voicing overwhelming support for the bill.

The Jim Brooks Stabilization Act  would require landlords owning more than six housing units to report any evictions directly and immediately to the city of Boston, so the government could then notify affected tenants of their rights and paths of action. It passed through the city council and mayor’s office in October 2017.

Although the bill would only take effect in the city of Boston, it must also pass through the state legislature due to it being a “home rule petition,” which is a piece of state legislation that affects one city or town.

“We would be able to know how many [people] are really being displaced,” said Alex Ponte-Capellan, a community organizer at City Life/Vida Urbana.

The bill is a response to Boston’s lack of affordable housing. The cost of housing continues to rise throughout the city’s neighborhoods, leaving renters and homeowners struggling to keep up. As a result, those unable to pay the increased costs find their living situations compromised.

“Despite huge amounts of building, people are still finding themselves pushed out of the city they love,” said Boston City Councilor Lydia Edwards, who began the testimonies in support of the legislation.

The overwhelming majority of people at the hearing were in support of the bill. Alongside City Life/Vida Urbana was the Chinese Progressive Association and other housing advocacy groups. Kate Brady of Boston’s Office of Housing Stability was also there to convey Mayor Marty Walsh’s support for the bill.

However, there was no shortage of dissenting opinions from landlords and citizens sympathetic to their position. Several testimonies were given urging the state legislature to vote no on the bill, though their stances relied heavily on misinterpretation or misinformation. Accusations ranged from the Jim Brooks Act being a form of rent control to actively encouraging endangered tenants to not pay rent. Several times throughout the hearing, supporters reiterated that the bill’s purpose is to collect data and inform tenants of pre-existing rights.

“It isn’t extending rights, it’s letting [people] know what they already have,” said Alex Ponte-Capellan of City Life/Vida Urbana. “Opponents to the Jim Brooks Act are saying they don’t want tenants to know their rights.”

While there is no information yet on when the Massachusetts state legislature plans to vote on the Jim Brooks Stabilization Act, advocates are pushing for a decision to be made before the end of February. Right to the City Boston — a coalition of housing justice groups, including City Life/Vida Urbana and Chinese Progressive Association — began a call-in campaign to pressure legislators into voting on February 7, but legislators have yet to schedule a vote.

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