New Bedford City Councilor Burgo Proposes Rent Stabilization Ballot Question
New Bedford City Councilor at Large Shane Burgo announced on WBSM's SouthCoast Tonight that he is proposing a non-binding ballot question for the 2023 city election in November that asks residents whether or not the City should enact an ordinance to stabilize rent.
Burgo's motion, which will be brought before the city council during its March 9 meeting, requests that the following question appear on the municipal ballot on November 7:
“Should the City of New Bedford adopt an ordinance stabilizing rents, to prevent displacement in the local housing rental market?"
Councilor at Large Brian Gomes and City Council President Linda Morad are listed as co-sponsors of the motion. Burgo said he has the votes on the council for the motion to pass and reach Mayor Jon Mitchell's desk for his signature.
However, Burgo admitted that he has not yet spoken directly with Mitchell regarding the ballot question, but said has spoken with officials in Mitchell's administration about the topic.
Mitchell's spokesperson Holly Huntoon told WBSM that Mitchell is currently traveling but will wait to hear Councilor Burgo's rationale before making comment.
Ultimately, Mitchell will need to sign off on the question for it to appear on the ballot, unless the city council has eight of eleven 11 to override Mitchell's veto. Burgo believes he has those eight votes.
The language of the ballot question will still be subject to review by the City Solicitor to ensure it is permissible. The Solicitor could amend the language or reject the question entirely.
Two key points that Burgo wanted to emphasize were that that this ballot question would be non-binding and is a "fact finding mission" to determine whether or not the residents support rent stabilization; and the term "rent stabilization" should not be used interchangeably with rent control.
Rent control, Burgo explained, is hard cap on a specific dollar amount which a landlord could not exceed.
Rent stabilization, however, allows a landlord to increase their rent every lease year, but the increase itself is capped a certain percentage.
Burgo said he proposing this question after he and his colleagues on the council have heard from many of their constituents that rents are increasing up to 100 percent for some residents every lease year.
"Particularly our senior citizens, who are on a fixed income are getting notices (that say) 'Hey guess what, next month when your lease renews, your $800 rent is now $1600," Burgo said.
Often labeled as the most progressive member in the chamber, the freshman councilor made housing a signature issue during his campaign in 2021 and throughout his first term.
He has chaired the council's Committee on Affordable Housing and Homeless Affairs, which was created by former City Council President Ian Abreu due to Burgo's leadership on the issue. The committee was then expanded by Council President Morad this year.
Burgo also cofounded the H.O.M.E Group which is a local coalition of organizations and policymakers that lobby the municipal, state and federal government for action to deal with New Bedford's housing woes.
Currently, rent control and rent stabilization has been outlawed in Massachusetts due to a 1994 ballot referendum.
But the conversation on whether or not the Commonwealth should bring back rent restrictions in light of the ongoing housing crisis has been reignited by Boston Mayor Michelle Wu, who proposed a rent stabilization ordinance package that is currently before the Boston City Council.
Once it is finalized, Boston will need a sign off from state officials to implement the measure.
Burgo said that depending on how residents respond to the ballot question, New Bedford could go through the same process as Boston an enact a rent stabilization ordinance via Home Rule Petition.
The Home Rule Petition process requires a particular change in a city or town to be approved by that municipal government's legislative and executive branch, then pass both chambers of the state legislature and be signed by the governor.
There has also been legislation filed by state lawmakers during the current session that aims to lift the statewide ban on rent restrictions such as the Tenant Protection Act filed in the House by Cambridge Rep. Mike Connolly and in the Senate by Acton Senator Jamie Eldridge.
New Bedford Rep. Chris Hendricks, who Burgo identified as a strong partner in the city's state lawmaker delegation, told WBSM that a broad range of solutions should be discussed to deal with the seemingly intractable issues of housing availability and affordability.
"I think the housing situation has gotten to a point where it’s wise to consider all options and have a robust debate about it," Hendricks said. "Tenant protections, such as allowing renters to spread out up front costs and providing better resources in housing court, is a good place to start, for example."
Burgo said he's had conversations with who he described as "mom and pop landlords" in New Bedford, landlords who rent owner occupied properties or have a modest rental property portfolio. He said some are amenable to rent stabilization depending on the percentage increase cap.
"We do have a lot of compassionate landlords out there," Burgo said.
"I haven't gotten to the point where I've had conversations with bigger developers or people who live out of state who just own property here in New Bedford, but those conversations will be ongoing," he added.
Listen to Councilor Burgo on SouthCoast Tonight: