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Cities and counties across the country are pushing measures aimed at stabilizing or controlling rents at a time when housing prices are skyrocketing. Voters in Orange County, Florida, and several California cities are asking voters to approve ballot measures that would cap rent increases. Supporters argue it's the best tool in the near term to ensure tenants can afford to stay in their homes. Opponents, led by the real-estate industry, argue that these measures will stymie efforts to build much-needed affordable housing and result in dilapidated and diminishing rental stock.

So many people are fighting for the precious few homes for sale in Massachusetts that the intense competition in April propelled the median sa…