by Shira Schoenberg On the surface, Dana Busch, a software designer living with a friend in Lincoln, and Judy Burnette, an elderly organizer living in a single-room-occupancy building in Boston, have little in common. But the two women are joining a growing number of activists, displaced by the housing crunch in the Boston area, urging state lawmakers to take the bold step of reinstating rent control in Massachusetts, 25 years after it was abolished. “One of the big arguments against rent control is that people who own buildings wouldn’t have enough money to take care of the building and do maintenance,” Busch said. “But even when there’s a market-rate building, they don’t fix the building. They keep the profits.” Rent control — in which municipalities limit the amount by which landlords can raise rents — began in the 1970s in Massachusetts in response to rising rents that were displacing low-income residents. Only a small number of municipalities ever adopted rent control, and by 1994 rent control remained only in Cambridge, Boston and Brookline. That year, landlords, who had been trying for years to eliminate rent control laws, took a referendum to the statewide ballot. Voters narrowly voted to end rent control, in a 51% to 49% vote. There were concerns at the time that rent control was primarily benefiting well-off and politically connected tenants, who could afford to pay market-rate rent. Now, an effort is afoot among some Boston area policymakers to bring back rent control and again give municipalities the ability to limit rising rents. Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone was the first mayor to endorse the idea. In an interview, Curtatone said cities have not built enough housing to meet demand in the metro Boston area. “The region needs to build 400,000 units over the next couple of decades. That’s going to take time,” Curtatone said. “In the meantime, we have young people, seniors, veterans, people with disabilities that have been displaced, in many cases through no-fault evictions.” Curtatone said without the ability to stabilize rents, people are having to move, and “We start to lose the soul and fabric of our community.” He said the economy will suffer if skilled workers leave places like Somerville because they cannot afford rent. Take people like Busch, the software designer who moved to Lincoln after she had to leave her apartment in Cambridge. Busch says she was paying $2,000 a month for a two-bedroom in a multi-unit building. There were multiple building code violations and excessive water damage that she says the landlord would not fix. “I said I’m not going to keep paying thousands of dollars for this, so I ended up leaving,” Busch said. Busch said that incident was not isolated — she has had the same problem in three other places in Boston. Rep. Nika Elugardo, D-Boston, who sponsored a bill along with Rep. Mike Connolly, D-Cambridge, to bring back rent control, said the housing crisis has long been a problem for poorer residents, but it is now affecting the middle class as well. One recent report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition found that Massachusetts is the third worst state to rent in. The report found that the average two-bedroom apartment in Massachusetts costs $1,758 a month to rent, which means a resident must earn $70,333 annually to avoid spending more than one-third of their income on rent and utilities. In the Boston, Cambridge and Quincy area, the average resident would need to make more than $87,000 a year to afford rent on a two-bedroom. Elugardo said when voters repealed rent control in 1994, “I think people didn’t fully understand the negative impacts that it would have on people’s ability to stay safely housed, when we let the market completely go out of control in terms of its rapid rise.” Elugardo said rising rents are shunting low-income people to homelessness and inadequate housing. Rising rates affect people like Burnette, who moved into Our Lady’s Guild House in Boston, a rooming house with individual rooms and a shared bathroom and kitchen, when it was a charity for low-income women run by a group of nuns. In 2012, according to news reports, the manager raised the rents and began evicting longtime tenants. Amid continuing fights and claims of discrimination, the owner reached an agreement earlier this year with Attorney General Maura Healey’s office temporarily halting evictions. But in the meantime, Burnette said a small number of older residents like her are still paying lower rates, as other rooms are rented to students and working women for between $810 and $950 a month, according to a website advertising the property. “We’re still fighting,” Burnette said. Landlords are likely to fight any efforts to reinstate rent control. Skip Schloming, acting executive director of the Small Property Owners Association, which represents landlords and worked to end rent control in the 1990s, said rent control “is a disaster for housing” and actually ends up leading to gentrification. Schloming said because landlords can only charge low rents, they want to make sure the rent is being paid reliably, so they choose better off tenants and tenants without children. “It ends up kicking out lower-income, elderly and disabled households as well as families with children,” Schloming said. Schloming said when rent control was in place, tenants would fight efforts to raise rents based on capital improvements, so landlords in rent-controlled buildings often stopped making repairs — leading to the coining of the phrase “rent control wreck.” “You could walk through neighborhoods and say that’s on rent control,” Schloming said. A 2012 study done by three MIT professors and published by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that the elimination of rent control added $1.8 billion to the value of Cambridge’s housing stock between 1994 and 2004, which includes the additional value of rent-controlled units, but also added value to nearby units that were never rent controlled but had their property values lowered by unmaintained rent-controlled buildings. Tamara Small, CEO for NAIOP Massachusetts, which represents commercial real estate developers, said rent control disincentives landlords from renting units out as opposed to selling them. “The voters of Massachusetts rejected rent control because it reduced the number of rental housing units, which is the complete opposite of what we need right now,” Small said. Small said lawmakers should instead focus on encouraging the production of more housing. Legislative leaders show little appetite for taking on rent control, and Elugardo acknowledged that addressing rent control could take two, three or four legislative sessions. Asked about rent control this week, Gov. Charlie Baker said he believes the best way to deal with the high price of housing is by increasing supply. Baker has been pushing lawmakers to pass a bill he proposed that would make it easier for zoning boards to approve certain types of housing projects. House Speaker Robert DeLeo, D-Winthrop, said representatives’ focus on housing will probably revolve around the governor’s bill. “Whether rent control or other various amendments will come up in addition to that, we’ll see,” DeLeo said. Senate President Karen Spilka, D-Ashland, was similarly noncommittal. “We’ll be taking a look at it,” she said.