Mass Gen. Brigham backs transfer tax to address housing crisis

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Citing barriers to housing affordability that compound workforce challenges, one of the state’s largest health care employers is backing a proposal to allow Massachusetts cities and towns to impose a new tax on housing transactions.

Mass Gen. Brigham testified Wednesday before the Joint Committee on Housing in support of bills that would allow municipalities to impose fees of between 0.5 and 2 percent of the price of certain housing transactions to generate revenue to preserve affordable housing and fund new home construction. The fee rate, and any exemptions, would be set locally, giving communities flexibility in setting the parameters.

As proposed, the bills (H.1377 and S.868) provide that the new fees apply only to transactions priced above the median single-family home price statewide or nationwide. county.

If approved, the transfer fee could add to property tax surcharges imposed in nearly 200 communities that have passed the Community Preservation Act (CPA), a law approved in 2000 that allows a local charge of up to at 3% to pay for the open space. protection, historic preservation, affordable housing and outdoor recreation. More than 8,700 affordable housing units have been created and another 14,700 have been supported with CPA funds.

Mass General Brigham, which employs more than 80,000 people and oversees a healthcare system that treats more than 1.5 million patients a year, says high housing costs make challenges for healthcare workers particularly acute at its hospitals in Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. But Elsie Taveras, community health equity manager at Mass General Brigham, says stretched household housing budgets are also linked to health outcomes.

“Health and housing are inextricably linked, and research has demonstrated the link between housing stability and health outcomes. The lack of affordable housing and other social determinants of health disproportionately affect many neighborhoods — especially communities of color — resulting in alarming health disparities,” Taveras wrote in his testimony to the committee, including a copy was obtained by the News Service.

Taveras cited research published in June 2021 by the Boston Foundation that found the health of children and caregivers improved when they had access to stable housing, with the average number of emergency room visits dropping from 2.3 visits to 1.3 over a 12-month period.

Proponents of the bill say a new levy is warranted as spiraling housing costs are increasingly hampering employers’ ability to retain workers in all sectors, including the restaurant, retail, education and public safety.

Over the years, real estate industry officials have managed to bottle up proposals to impose new fees on real estate transactions, opposing the idea of ​​raising housing costs in order to solve a problem which is a statewide problem and central to many longstanding government-sponsored projects. housing programs.

Proponents of the bill counter that Massachusetts was ranked the third least affordable state in the nation by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, proof that more needs to be done to address the problem.

“The cry can be heard from every corner of the state, large and small, urban and rural: We can’t find affordable housing for people,” said Pamela Schwartz, director of the Western Massachusetts Network to End Homelessness. “This transfer fee legislation is an essential response to this situation where everyone is on deck. We need to give our local communities the opportunity to use it.

Mass Gen. Brigham’s support for the bill was announced by the Transfer Fee for Affordable Housing Coalition, a group of more than 70 community organizations, housing and planning agencies and municipalities that also supports bills introduced by individual municipalities where officials have already backed the proposed transfer fee. .

According to the coalition’s website, communities that have adopted the real estate transfer fee bylaws include Boston, Concord, Somerville, Nantucket, Brookline, Provincetown, Chatham, Cambridge and Arlington.

The bill’s sponsors, Senator Jo Comerford of Northampton and Representative Michael Connolly of Cambridge, hailed Mass Gen. Brigham’s support. The company’s support could help give momentum to the Beacon Hill bill, though it hasn’t been mentioned as a priority issue by Democratic legislative leaders who wield great scrutiny of emerging bills. in the House and the Senate for the votes and those who remain in the committees.

The Housing Committee faces a February 2 deadline to make a recommendation on the bill. The committee is co-chaired by Democratic Senator John Keenan of Quincy and Representative James Arciero of Westford.

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