Affordable housing is a top problem for Massachusetts. It requires a set of bold initiatives and investments that work together to increase the availability and affordability of housing. This bill (H.4138) takes the scale of our housing challenges seriously and can be made even stronger as it advances through the legislative process.
In keeping with the all-hands-on-deck effort needed to solve our housing ills, the bill recognizes that municipalities can play a major role by investing resources to address local housing needs. By empowering cities and towns to place real estate transfer fees on the most expensive homes, it provides a new tool that will generate resources for local affordable housing efforts. By placing fees on the sale of only the most expensive strata of housing, the policy would not require owners of affordable housing to contribute. Municipal leaders will ultimately be held politically accountable by their residents for the way they set transfer fee rates and thresholds. As this legislation moves forward, legislators should consider a more flexible sale price threshold that would allow municipalities with low median home sale prices to set a threshold below $1 million and allow the few municipalities with multimillion-dollar median sales prices to set a threshold closer to $1 million. Ultimately, a transfer fee option will both incentivize and provide resources for additional affordable housing.
The bill would also take critical steps toward protecting tenant rights by sealing eviction records and creating an Office of Fair Housing. Eviction sealing protects tenants from misuse of eviction records and unfair exclusion from the housing market. Those most at risk of eviction are people of color. As this bill moves forward, lawmakers should ensure that tenants who are evicted can easily seal their evictions within reasonable time frames to avoid inadvertent harm. Likewise, the new Fair Housing office would advance inclusiveness in our communities through education, outreach, and collaboration with other state agencies against housing discrimination and patterns of segregation. It should be given sufficient resources to maximize its effectiveness.
Lastly, the largest capital authorization in the bill would allocate $1.6 billion toward preserving and improving more than 27,000 existing public housing units. This represents approximately one-quarter of the state’s public housing portfolio and is a critical piece of the larger housing puzzle that has too-long been neglected. Public housing fills an important space in the affordable housing ecosystem, and this is a positive step toward reinvesting in these critical units.
We look forward to continuing to work with the administration and the legislature for housing solutions that will advance racial and economic justice in the Commonwealth.
- The Governor’s proposal includes real estate transfer fees, a critical tool that will allow municipalities to collect revenue to fund local affordable housing efforts. How Much Would a Transfer Fee on Expensive Real Estate Generate for Your City or Town? Use our downloadable, interactive Excel dashboard to see how much revenue your community could raise.
- Programs which help people afford their rent are a critical tool in addressing the housing affordability crisis. Learn more about Massachusetts’ Universal Housing Vouchers here.
- As a bond bill, the investments would occur through the capital budgeting process, not the annual state budget. You can read about the capital budget process in our Massachusetts Capital Budget 101 primer.