This November, Boston voters may get another chance to adopt the Massachusetts state Community Preservation Act (CPA), which allows communities to add a small surcharge to their property taxes to fund affordable housing, open space acquisition or historic preservation, reports the Boston Globe.
Since the act was signed into law 15 years ago, 160 Massachusetts communities have joined, collecting more than $1.6 billion for over 8,000 projects, according to the Community Preservation Coalition. But not Boston. Voters there rejected a 2 percent surcharge in 2001, shortly after the CPA was adopted. Because the state can match local dollars by up to 30 percent under the program, some estimate that Boston has lost out on $300 million over the years.
On Tuesday, the Boston City Council will consider whether to place Boston’s participation in the CPA back on the ballot. This time a smaller surcharge is being proposed: a 1 percent property tax increase, after the first $100,000 of a house’s assessed value is exempted. Supporters estimate the average increase for a residential property will be $23 a year. That would raise an annual $13 million.
So far statewide, CPA-driven revenue has created or supported more than 9,400 units of affordable housing. In Boston, advocates are leading the campaign to adopt the CPA, saying the funding could help soften the pressures of a tight housing market, while also paying for new parks and historic preservation. The legislation dictates only that at least 10 percent of each year’s funds must go to each of the three categories, so it’s unclear exactly how much housing could be created.
Representatives of two area real estate organizations told the Globe they were skeptical of the city adopting the CPA because of that uncertainty, and because they believe real estate interests are already funding many other Boston initiatives. The city recently increased developer requirements to create affordable housing through new building or by paying into a housing fund.
Jen Kinney is a freelance writer and documentary photographer. Her work has also appeared in Philadelphia Magazine, High Country News online, and the Anchorage Press. She is currently a student of radio production at the Salt Institute of Documentary Studies. See her work at jakinney.com.