Mayor Michelle Wu, several city councillors and State House officials had a handful of football analogies at the ready as she signed a home rule petition establishing a real estate transfer fee aimed at helping affordable housing development and senior citizen property tax stabilization.
It could, however, be a bruising run to the end zone as Gov. Charlie Baker has already signaled his opposition.
The City Council approved the petition at its Wednesday morning, and Wu signed the proposal in Mattapan, at the Foley Senior Residences on River Street.
The petition now moves to the State House for consideration. Former Mayor Marty Walsh, who served for 17 years in the House before entering City Hall, had pushed for a similar petition.
“Safe housing, affordable housing, is a human right for everyone,” Wu said.
“This is a moment where housing continues to be life or death, better opportunities and the baseline to raise a family,” she said. “This is a time when we are getting tremendous support from the federal government. We will take that opportunity to use every single dollar wisely…It’s also a moment to lean in and say this is a time where we can help people even more. We can’t wait in this moment to add a very small transaction fee at the point of sale…Everything we do to stabilize our residents is an investment in the Commonwealth and beyond.”
Mayor Wu also pointed out Boston could have doubled its funding last year if the fee had been in place. The transfer fee was originally proposed in 2019 by East Boston Councillor Lydia Edwards, who is now also a state senator.
Gov. Baker, who has left the door open to other Wu proposals, such as fare-free public transit, already signaled he is a “no” on the real estate transfer tax.
“As a general rule, I don’t support these types of things,” Gov. Baker said Thursday during an appearance on GBH’s “Boston Public Radio” show.
He pointed to “billions” available to Massachusetts for housing, meaning money from the federal government, and city housing officials have hundreds of millions of dollars available to them. “These are huge numbers, folks,” Baker added.
If passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor, the fee will generate nearly a hundred million dollars annually to create and preserve affordable housing in Boston and reduce property taxes for qualified low-income senior homeowners – doubling the numbers of senior citizens who would qualify for the senior property tax exemption.
Through the legislation, the first $2 million of the sales price on a home in Boston would be exempt from the fee. For real estate sales over $2 million, the fee collected will be paid by the seller. The funds generated will be allocated to the Neighborhood Housing Trust, which creates new affordable housing and preserves existing affordable housing.
Based on 2021 sales in Boston, a two percent fee would have raised an estimated $99.7 million, and would have only affected approximately 700 transactions, though some transfers between family members are exempt from the fee.
As a new stipulation in this new petition, the senior tax relief program (known as the 41C program) has been expanded through increasing the exemption and modifying the criteria. The income limits would go from $24,911 to $47,000 for single people, and up to $53,000 for a couple. The changes would take the eligible tax-paying population from 4,600 to 8,700 residents.
Wu said Mattapan’s state Rep. Brandy Fluker-Oakley would be “quarterbacking” the proposal through the state Legislature. Having the signing in Rep. Fluker-Oakley’s district, and within a senior housing development, was a forward pass to the Legislature that conveyed how important this is to Boston.
“This is to not only increase our supply of affordable housing, but also to protect our seniors,” said Fluker-Oakley. “This is the time for this to happen. We can’t just kick the can down the road and squeeze our long-time homeowners and renters…Our seniors took care of us and now we need to take care of them. We can be more progressive in how we tax in this city.”
Fluker-Oakley will be filing the home rule petition in the Legislature, and it will have to pass both houses and be signed by Gov. Baker before it could be implemented by the city.
State Rep. Liz Miranda, who represents Dorchester and is running for state Senate, said she would be pushing for the petition as well during her last days as state representative.
“For many young people who grew up here, not being able to buy a home in the neighborhood they live in is actually emotionally violent,” she said. “Many of them look for a place in Brockton, New Bedford or Taunton. I ask myself how far will people have to go before we do something about it.”
The speaking program concluded with Mattapan resident Laura Woods, who lives at the Foley, wishing everyone well.
“I am here at the Foley now for 14 years,” she said. “I’ve enjoyed it. I wouldn’t be at another place.”
Gintautas Dumcius contributed to this report.