By Matt McLaughlin
The Board of Aldermen unanimously approved a Home Rule Petition for a Real Estate Transfer Fee tonight. I plan on canvassing the neighborhood to explain the final bill, but I want to dispel misinformation I routinely hear. This is a simplified version but I am happy to go into detail for anyone interested.
The proposed transfer fee is a one percent fee on real estate transactions in Somerville. The money will be used for affordable housing in Somerville. This fee will not apply to any owner occupied units. It will not apply to sellers or buyers who live in Somerville. Family transactions and inheritances will also be exempt.
So who will pay the fee?:
The only people that will end up paying this fee are developers, speculators, home flippers, multiple property owners and individuals who own properties that do not live in the city.
Can’t the law be changed at any time?:
The only aspects of the bill that can be changed is if the city decides to allow more exemptions, not less. I know this because I was the one that inserted the language. In order for any substantive changes to be made it would have to go through the same rigorous process this bill will, which requires approval from the state legislature and the governor. After spending more than a year and a half on this, I can state confidently that no one would want to go through this process again to make changes.
There was no public process:
I have never taken part of a more rigorous process for anything in my time on the Board. Zoning, budgets, the High School, the Green Line, none of these processes were as through as this. We held two public hearings, published the hearings in all newspapers and televised them. We met in committee longer than I’ve ever spent on any city legislation. Some people said they wanted a city wide mailer to all property owners, excluding renters. The Board requested the city use mail and reverse 311 to notify residents, which they declined. To be fair, they stated that they have not done that for any other public hearings, and the two hearings were so well attended the message clearly got out.
Additionally, this is still just the beginning of the process. The Home Rule Petition still has to go to the state legislature for approval and then the governor. There will be yet another public hearing at the state level. If this petition somehow gets through that process, it will return to the Board where we will codify it into an ordinance. Only then do we even get to talk about implementing the fee.
Why don’t you make the developers pay?:
At this point the developers are some of the few people who will pay. There is no exemption for them and when they do pay it will be substantively larger fee than an individual home purchaser.
I support affordable housing, but not like this. Do something different:
I have heard this mantra for the last decade of my life. There is someone at every attempt to address affordable housing who says to take another path. I will take any and all routes to preserve affordability in this city. Critics suggested that we regulate condo conversions and Air BNB’s, pass a revised zoning code, make budget cuts and use the general fund for housing, hold developers like FRIT in Assembly accountable, that Tufts and Partners should pay more. Anyone paying attention knows that I have been at the very front of all of those fights. I will do all of the above, and expect the same resistance that we got from the transfer fee.
Who gets the affordable housing?:
Somerville residents and people who work in Somerville get preference, so long as it abides by housing law. State and federal laws limit residential preference due to historic discrimination in affordable housing. This bill takes into consideration the needs of Somerville residents, but also respects the law
This is a regional problem that requires regional solutions:
Yes, this is indeed a regional, and even a national and international problem. Unfortunately we are essentially on our own to solve this problem. The state government refuses to take substantive action on affordable housing, and may likely kill this bill as well.
The federal housing department does not believe in money for affordable housing. This Board and I were elected to address affordable housing, not make up excuses.
We will lead the way as a national model rather than wait for others to act.
This is just one of many ways to address affordable housing. In my mind a one percent fee on interests that don’t live in the city and have reaped massive benefits from an out of control market is more than reasonable. Unfortunately every attempt at affordable housing is met with massive resistance from special interests who manipulate people understandably mistrustful of government. There is a reason nothing has been done about the affordability crisis. I voted in favor or this effort and will support any and all efforts to preserve the city that I love.