Senate presents .2 billion bond bill
Senate presents .2 billion bond bill

  • The Senate bill proposes borrowing $5.2 billion, well below the House proposal of $6.2 billion.
  • That doesn’t include the House’s proposed $1 billion in borrowing to expand the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority’s service area beyond the 60 cities and towns it currently serves. The lack of clean water is a barrier to building more housing for many communities, and expanding the MWRA’s service area is a priority for House Speaker Ron Mariano.
  • The Senate measure drastically cuts the fund for paused mixed-income projects from the $250 million proposed by the House to $50 million.
  • This removes a provision supported by the House of Representatives that would give tenants the opportunity to buy their apartments if the landlord wants to sell them.

While advocates are generally pleased with the progress of housing legislation by the governor, House and Senate, there are some notable exceptions in the legislation that have frustrated some.

For example, very few tenant protections made it into any version of the Senate bill, and the House notably eliminated a measure that would have allowed tenants’ past eviction records to be blocked in some cases. (The Senate has reinstated that measure.)

And the bill provides very little funding for homeownership, a reversal from a few years ago when the state pumped millions from pandemic relief into programs for first-time homebuyers.

“It’s challenging because so much needs to be included in this bond bill to combat this devastating crisis,” said Symone Crawford, executive director of the Massachusetts Affordable Housing Alliance. “But excluding funding for homeownership programs is a major omission. That’s key to getting people out of the rental market and into stable homes.”

Although the transfer tax has been on the table for years, it gained real momentum in the House for the first time this year. The tax was defeated in large part by an aggressive campaign by the real estate industry, which lobbied against the measure, sent out mailers, funded studies and tried to suppress local supporters.

The Greater Boston Real Estate Board, which led the campaign against the tax, vowed to do “whatever it takes” to defeat the proposal, through emails, mass text messages and websites that portrayed the proposal as a “new tax” that will “put a strain on your wallet and our economy.”

After the House of Representatives failed to include this provision in its version of the bill, the real estate association announced it would launch a second phase of its campaign against the tax, focusing on the Senate.

“Instead of pushing for measures like transfer taxes that would increase costs and hamper housing construction, leaders on Beacon Hill must focus on reforms that reduce red tape and create more housing at all price points,” said Greg Vasil, CEO of the real estate association. “While we are pleased that our campaign helped prevent the passage of transfer taxes in the House, we know the fight is far from over, and members of the Massachusetts Senate must continue to listen to opposition from every corner of the state.”

Healey’s version of the housing bond bill, which she filed in October, would allow municipalities to voluntarily impose a fee of 0.5 to 2 percent on property sales over $1 million, or over the county’s median home sales price in places where it exceeds $1 million.

Wu’s proposal, which the City Council approved in 2022, would have allowed Boston to impose a fee of up to 2 percent on high-priced real estate transactions, paid by the seller. The fee would only be charged on transactions of $2 million or more, with the first $2 million exempt from the fee.

She testified in 2023 that if the city’s application for a transfer fee under the Home Rule program had been approved in 2021, the tax would have raised $100 million for the city’s affordable housing fund.

In 2020, then-Mayor Martin J. Walsh sponsored a measure that would have imposed a 2 percent tax on sales valued over $2 million in Boston. The proposal failed on Beacon Hill.

Boston isn’t the only city that has pushed for a transfer fee to fund affordable housing, nor was it the first. Nantucket has been pushing for some version of the proposal for at least a decade, and Somerville, Concord and Brookline, among other municipalities, have proposed transfer fees. Even Mass General Brigham, the state’s largest private employer, sponsored a bill that would allow municipalities to impose such fees.

Like the House version, the Senate bill allows the construction of accessory dwelling units — also known as ADUs or granny flats — in all single-family neighborhoods in Massachusetts, echoing a measure pushed by Healey. Healey administration officials have said they estimate that the ADU policy alone could create more than 8,000 housing units in five years.

The Senate will vote on its version of the bill before Senate leaders resolve their differences with the House and ultimately produce a compromise version of the bill that Healey can sign.

The Senate plans to debate the bill on Thursday.

You can reach Samantha J. Gross at [email protected]. Follow her @samantha_gross. Andrew Brinker can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him @andrewnbrinker.

By Aurora