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GA Blog: State issues

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3.20.19 State News: Tax on High-End Real Estate Sales Could Generate Hundreds of Millions for Boston; Dampen Real Estate Market

A tax on sales of high-dollar real estate in Boston would generate an enormous amount of money for affordable housing, but could dampen the city’s real estate market and faces a long road to approval.

That’s what emerged from a Boston City Council hearing Tuesday on a proposal that would levy a 6 percent tax on most homes, land, and office buildings that sell for more than $2 million, with the proceeds going to the city’s affordable housing fund.

A tax of that size would have generated $420 million last year, according to data from City Councilor Lydia Edwards, one of the bill’s cosponsors. Even a tax on commercial and industrial properties alone would have generated $189 million, nearly quadrupling the city’s current affordable housing budget of roughly $50 million.

“I would think those are numbers and money we certainly could use in the City of Boston,’ Edwards said.

Walsh administration officials — who have pushed for more affordable housing funding but taken no position on the transfer tax — didn’t disagree. Housing chief Sheila Dillon said Mayor Martin J. Walsh is “committed to the goals” of the legislation, but that it needs more study. Commissioner of Assessing Gayle Willett said she worried a transfer tax, and a related extra tax on sales of homes owned for less than two years, could hurt property values and make Boston’s housing market even tighter.

“I think that this would affect sales,” Willett said. “It would be in someone’s interest to get around these fees.”

Real estate industry leaders were more explicit: They don’t like the idea one bit. Greg Vasil, president of the Greater Boston Real Estate Board, said his members, who include major affordable housing developers, unanimously oppose the current plan. Should it pass, he said, the tax would simply be passed on to the people its supporters are trying to help: low-income renters and small businesses.

“Taxes like this trickle down an economy. They end up coming to rest with those who can least afford them,” Vasil said. “Companies will pay more in rent; people will pay more in terms of rent.”

Read more about this proposal at The Boston Globe.

Boston Skyline

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3.18.19 State News: Compared to Other States, Massachusetts Lags in Move for More Housing

From The Boston Globe

"In Massachusetts, where such housing production plans remain optional, Baker’s focus is on making it a little easier for those that want to build to do so. His bill, he said, would encourage zoning changes for denser development by lowering the approval threshold for city councils and town meetings from the current two-thirds majority to a simple majority: 50 percent plus one.

Baker administration officials say they’re not sure how many units the change could create. But some local officials say that little tweak could make a huge difference.

“Some people seem to think this is a single,” said Mayor Kim Driscoll of Salem. “It’s a triple. All day.”

Driscoll has been trying since last summer to push through her City Council new zoning that would help convert two shuttered Catholic schools and a former senior center into dozens of apartments, many of them classified as affordable. Seven of the 11 City Council members support the measure, but it needs eight votes to secure a two-thirds majority. That eighth vote has been elusive; another attempt at passage recently failed by a 7-4 vote.

“We’ve been at this for eight months now. It’s incredibly frustrating,” Driscoll said. “These buildings have been vacant for years. We need to create a path to reuse them.”

Baker’s law would help, she said. But, despite broad support, it has proved hard to pass.

The measure stalled in last year’s legislative session on Beacon Hill after housing advocates and some lawmakers lobbied to include more aggressive zoning changes. Baker tried again during the informal session in December — when a single lawmaker can block a bill — and it fizzled when progressive legislators tried to include protections for tenants at risk of eviction.

At the State House rollout, Baker had a wide array of advocates on hand to back him up. Andre Leroux, executive director of the Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance, said, “We should move forward on what we can.” Geoff Beckwith, president of the Massachusetts Municipal League, praised Baker’s bill, which he described as “bold in its impact, modest in its means,” and said “preserves and protects citizen-based decision-making.”

But there’s no telling how long that comity will last.

Housing advocates say they support Baker’s bill as a first step but made clear they’ll keep pushing for more. “We don’t think this is the last bite at the apple,” Leroux said. Beacon Hill veterans say that could be a tough sell to lawmakers wary of resistance back home, and perhaps from Baker himself."

Read more at The Boston Globe.

State House Winter

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2.27.19 State News: Governor Charlie Baker Renews Push for Housing Production Bill

Governor Charlie Baker has doubled down on legislation to make it easier for cities and towns to relax zoning restrictions to facilitate the construction of new housing, casting the problem of affordability and availability of housing as one central to the state's ability to address other vexing problems like transportation options and talent recruitment for jobs.

Baker, who proposed similar legislation last session but failed to secure a vote in either branch of the Legislature, said the housing problem has only gotten worse since he first proposed the concept in 2017.

The lack of inventory, Baker said, has made it harder for young people to buy a home and for workers to live close to their jobs, forcing more cars on the roads and longer commutes.

"We're making a big mistake with respect to the future that we all want if we don't step up and fix this," Baker said.

The bill the governor planned to file closely mirrors legislation he filed in late 2017, but which never came up for a vote in the House or Senate despite a broad coalition of support. Some legislators and housing advocates at the time said they wanted to see a zoning reform bill go further, and include tenant protections and elements geared toward affordability, among other things.

"I would have preferred to have that pass, what the governor had done last year," House Speaker Robert DeLeo told the News Service on Wednesday. "I think that bill at least moved the ball forward in terms of resolving at least part of the issue in terms of housing."

Asked why he didn't call a vote, the speaker said, "We were working with various groups at the time. We thought we could get to a finalization and when we got to a finalization unfortunately we were in informal sessions at that point so it was what it was."

Baker put the issue back on the table for the new two-year session Wednesday with an event on the Grand Staircasesurrounded by nearly 50 municipal leaders and advocates for employer groups, realtors and homebuilders...

Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll said that in her city she has been working for eight months on a plan to redevelop vacant historic buildings that used to be Catholic Church owned schools. It failed on a 7-4 vote Tuesday night.

"It underscores even the easy stuff isn't easy," Driscoll said.

Driscoll also addressed the critics that characterized Baker's bill last session as just a baby step forward. "It's a triple all day long," she said, using a baseball analogy.

More on this from WGBH and the Boston Business Journal.

State House Winter

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2.14.19 State News: State Senator Brendan Crighton (D-Lynn) Appointed Chairman of the Joint Committee on Housing

Press Release from the Office of State Senator Brendan P. Crighton

Senate President Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland) Thursday announced the appointment of Senator Brendan P. Crighton (D-Lynn) as Chairman of the Joint Committee on Housing. Senator Crighton was also named Vice Chairman of the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies. Additionally, he will serve as a member of the Joint Committee on Election Laws, the Joint Committee on Mental Health, Substance Use and Recovery, the Joint Committee on Public Health and the Senate Committee on Personnel and Administration.

"I am very excited about the opportunities that these appointments will provide for me to advance priorities that are important to residents in my district and across the Commonwealth," said Senator Crighton.

"Massachusetts is currently facing an extreme housing crisis affecting many residents, especially families with children and the elderly. With an estimated 248,000 households spending more than half of their income on housing, I am eager to work with Senate President Spilka and my colleagues to find solutions for the housing crisis, and on the many other important matters we will deliberate this legislative session," stated Senator Crighton.

Check out State Senator Crighton's Facebook Page here!

Note: Crighton is the State Senator for the Third Essex District serving the City of Lynn and Towns of Marblehead, Nahant, Saugus and Swampscott on the North Shore.


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2.8.19 State News: Red Line-Blue Line Rail Link Bumped to "Next Priority" Status By MBTA

The possibility of a smoother connection for T commuters from Revere to Somerville or from Cambridge to the North Shore just went from the unlikely to the . . . less unlikely.

Yes, that once mythical Red Line-Blue Line rail link is suddenly back on the table, bumped up in the MBTA line-up to “next priority” status by Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack at a meeting of the T’s oversight board this week.

Now, “next priority” in public transit terms means a child born today might have a chance of using the new connection by the time he or she has to commute to college or maybe a job at Mass. General. But there is some pressure to move the project up in the T’s construction schedule faster than that.

More on this from The Boston Globe.


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2.5.19 State News: Lawmakers Pitch Five-Point Bill to Lift Struggling Cities

You've likely heard about the housing crisis in eastern Massachusetts, with too few units available and prices always on the rise. 

But a second housing crisis, one with effectively opposite circumstances, lurks across much of the rest of the state. In former industrial cities hit by economic challenges, vacant and blighted properties remain, home prices are depressed and federal development grant dollars are shrinking. 

New legislation filed by members of the Gateway Cities Legislative Caucus, based on research by MassINC and the Massachusetts Association of Community Development Corporations, aims to address those problems. The bill proposes a combination of state funding and initiatives that supporters say will help towns and cities stabilize distressed areas. 

"Everyone here who's been to a gateway city or lives in a gateway city knows that there's much more to us than just our downtowns or Main Streets," said Sen. Brendan Crighton (D-Lynn), who sponsored the legislation last week alongside Rep. Antonio Cabral (D-New Bedford). "There's really an opportunity to change these neighborhoods." 

The bill has five key components designed to reverse damaging economic trends. The proposal would double the annual cap of the Housing Development Incentive Program (HDIP) to $20 million and create a "spot blight rehabilitatiion program" to help cities address residential properties that have been left vacant by landlords or developers. It also suggests establishing a housing commission specifically to study weak markets, ensuring the Mass School Building Authority considers neighborhood vitality when weighing proposals, and requiring the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development to create a capacity building initiative. 

"These neighobrhoods are key to our successs," Cabral said. "We think by targeting these five levels, we can accomplish a lot in our cities and towns.

More on this proposed legislation from The Salem News.

State House Winter

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