Boston should join Preservation Act

Boston voters are being asked to decide the outcome of five ballot questions on the Nov. 8 ballot. And with many of us opting to take advantage of voting early this year, including this Saturday at several Dot locations, it’s time to make the calls.

Question 5 asks Boston voters to support or oppose the adoption of the Community Preservation Act, which would trigger a one-percent surcharge of property tax bills to fund preservation of historic resources and parks and to build or preserve affordable housing.

Proponents of the CPA include Mayor Marty Walsh and most Boston elected officials— including the City Council, which approved its placement on the ballot. Other important voices rallying in support include established neighborhood organizations like the Massachusetts Affordable Housing Alliance (MAHA), Greater Boston Interfaith Organization (GBIO) and All Dorchester Sports League (ADSL).

They argue that the modest surcharge, which is already in place in 161 other cities and towns in Massachusetts, would generate millions per year that is now being “left on the table.” That’s because in addition to revenue raised from taxpayers in Boston, the state will contribute “matching funds” that will add to the kitty each year. Right now, because we’re not a CPA community, we don’t get those additional state dollars.

An analysis published this week by the Boston Municipal Research Bureau (BMRB) estimates that — based on 2016 tax data— the CPA would have generated roughly $16.5 million for projects that otherwise may not get funding. If approved, those dollars, beginning in FY 2018, would be directed into a dedicated fund that will be overseen by a nine-member committee under the control of the mayor and the city councillors, who would appoint its members.

Based on the authorizing legislation, the money raised by CPA can only be used for three “core purposes,” according to the Research Bureau’s report: community housing, open space, including parks, and historic preservation.

How much will it cost the average homeowner? According to the BMRB review, a homeowner whose property is valued at $500,000 per year would pay about $24 annually on top of the present tax bill to fund CPA, if the owner already gets a residential exemption. That cost goes up about $20 additional if an owner doesn’t claim the exemption. Owners of commercial properties will absorb a bigger share of the cost— or roughly $107 additional for a property valued at $500,000.

Boston residents voted against joining the CPA fund – it involved a two-percent surcharge – in 2001.

Times have changed. Boston desperately needs to find new funds to help keep the neighborhoods affordable for longtime residents, seniors, and, in particular, low-income neighbors. Mayor Walsh’s existing housing plan estimates that the city will need at least $20 million in additional new funds per year to keep pace with his goal of adding 53,000 new units of housing by 2030. The CPA dollars will likely be a key source of that funding.

Voters sensitive to the idea of paying a bit more every year to help stabilize housing costs or to add amenities to city parks should take a moment to calculate out the impacts over the course of a year.

Most of us will contribute the equivalent of a couple of large pepperoni pizzas from Pat’s Pantry or Uphams House to help leverage a much bigger piece of the pie for the overall good of the city.

It’s time for Boston to join with many of our suburban neighbors in joining the CPA fund. We encourage our readers to vote “yes” on Question 5 in this election.

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