Letter to the Editor: To Members of the Joint Committee on Revenue on Somerville Transfer Tax

Dear Members of the Joint Committee on Revenue,

I am writing to provide testimony as a constituent of the City of Somerville regarding Bill H.4582, specifically to the consideration and authorization to impose a transfer fee.

Unfortunately, I was unable to attend yesterday’s hearing at 10 a.m., for personal reasons.

Below, I will highlight reasons why I believe this transfer fee to be unfair to property owners, including single home owners of our community.

But first, I would like to share that the process has been one lacking full transparency, with lots of debate among our residents as well as the board of aldermen.

As an example, the body of residents were improperly informed about the proposed transfer fee. The aldermen were not forthcoming about the implementation of such a fee, nor was there sufficient time or effort to engage the community about what the fee would do to ensure affordable housing.

Also, I would like to ask that you provide a copy of the video of the hearing to the public at large, since many who were opposed could not attend.

I assure you, there were many constituents opposed to the transfer fee who did attend two meetings at Somerville City Hall, prior to the bill presented before you.

As a lifelong taxpayer and resident of Somerville, I am disheartened at the manner our administration has been conducting their affairs pertaining to municipality business.

We have asked them repeatedly to keep us informed on the many decisions being made that will effect the lives of hundreds of elderly, disabled and working families. Yet our pleas for better communication continue to go unanswered.

Many are well aware that there is a problem with unaffordable housing in Somerville. However, this issue does not only effect our city, it effects the entire region.

Please let me explain my point of view of how we got here —  Gentrification unbridled, Developers unchecked, who have not contributed to the pool of funding to ensure affordable housing needs be met and maintained. The administration of Somerville has ignored the problem for years. They have allowed the developers to continue to build luxury housing without requiring them to build or pay towards the building of affordable housing for families and elderly who have been pushed out of our city for the past 15 years and counting.

To add to this, home buyers, otherwise knows as “house flippers”, have made our city unaffordable. Many have used proceeds gained by lucrative sales to purchase homes in the suburbs. Many did not remain in our city and raise families, instead they benefited by moving to a city of their choice, while hundreds of families were forced to move to affordable towns.

We are not against affordable housing — to the contrary, most of us who grew up in Somerville understand the need for affordable rent and homes. But that’s not what this city has become. The only purpose the transfer fee will serve, if passed, would be to force prices of homes, condos and rents to soar even higher.

Many who spoke against the transfer tax are members of our city who have struggled for decades, working 2-3 jobs while raising families and caring for elderly parents. I am among this group and I can honestly say, it has been very difficult to keep up with the rising real estate taxes, water/sewer increases, a new high school ($285 million), GLX ($50 million), and millions we pay in lawsuits, a badly distressed sewer system which developers have not contributed, only added to the stress of a 200 year old system.

Other concerns:  Who will maintain these funds? How will they be distributed? When the properties are recorded to the Middlesex Registry of Deeds, sold to LLC’s, does the city increase prior assessed value of the properties? Who will monitor the transactions?

Taxpayers have been paying a $300 fee for affordable housing through the Community Preservation Act (CPA), from annual real estate taxes. This also includes open space and historical properties. FRIT at Assembly Row broke their promise of supplying 20% towards affordable housing. Why was this allowed? There have been too many broken promises which don’t sit well with me and many other long time homeowner occupied taxpayers for us to believe that the transfer tax will now end the issue of unaffordable housing.

The city also needs to catch up on the assessed values of properties. Some of us have questioned whether the distribution of real estate taxes is applied fairly among home and business owners.

We feel that the transfer fee will encourage more stagnation of home sales. Buyers nor sellers want to pay a percentage fee during a sale. This fee may eventually create more unafforability since the struggling property owners may be forced to increase rents.

The transfer fee has unfortunately divided our city even further than it has already been divided.

We understand that affordable housing is an issue, but it should not rest on the backs of the many who were fortunate enough to inherit their homes. We didn’t ask for this– developers are the only winners in this scenario and they should be forced to pay a large portion of proceeds towards the fund because they have stripped our city of the homes which are gone due to over-development.  If students are burdened with college tuition loans, I don’t see what that has to do with affordable housing. It’s their responsibility, not ours.

I would respectfully ask that you please consider the details of my outline I have provided, prior to making your final decision. I would also urge you to research the policies set forth by our city. The city I once knew is quickly disappearing. We no longer have the same community we once shared. Transients and Our Revolution supporters come and go. I understand the young college graduates need housing and the argument made to provide housing to city workers does not hold up.

Thank you for your time and consideration. Please allow us to review the video of the hearing or provide a detailed document of the meeting including statements made by representatives and constituents. It’s very important that all constituents remain engaged in this process and others being reviewed regarding affordable housing.

Myra Thompson

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