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Boston OK’s property tax hike to pay for open space, environment, preservation

Rae Lunam, of Boston, handed out stickers to voters for the 2016 US presidential election at the polling location at the Boston Public Library.
Rae Lunam, of Boston, handed out stickers to voters for the 2016 US presidential election at the polling location at the Boston Public Library.(EPA/LISA HORNAK)

Bostonians voted Tuesday to add a 1 percent surcharge to property taxes to provide additional resources for affordable housing, environmental protection, and historic preservation — a proposal they had rejected 15 years earlier.

The measure, known as the Community Preservation Act, passed Tuesday with more than 60 percent of voters supporting the idea.

Years ago, the measure failed after tepid support from then-mayor Thomas M. Menino and a well-funded opposition from private companies.

This time around, Mayor Martin J. Walsh, all but one member of the Boston City Council, and more than a dozen state legislators from Boston supported the act. Community groups, including the Massachusetts Affordable Housing Alliance, the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization, and local neighborhood development corporations, formed a highly organized campaign to provide “Yes” votes for the preservation act.

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“This campaign was run on the affordable housing issue, and voters responded in a big way,” said Tom Callahan, the executive director of the housing alliance. “We lost out on a lot of money 15 years ago, but we’re now excited for the potential” of the increased funds.

In an evening press conference Tuesday, Walsh expressed support for the act. Previously, he told the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce that “the [preservation act] will unlock tens of millions of dollars for housing every year, while protecting open space and historic buildings.”

Advocates say the 1 percent tax equates to about $24 a year for most homeowners and will raise more than $20 million for Boston. Under the measure, which was listed as Question 5 on the ballot, lower-income homeowners and seniors would be exempt from the tax.

“We look forward to the next steps in the process and making a renewed commitment in our neighborhoods,” said a statement released by the Yes for a Better Boston committee, which organized in favor of the Community Preservation Act.

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More than 160 cities and towns across Massachusetts have already adopted the tax, which was first made available to communities in 2000. This election cycle, Boston is among at least a dozen communities statewide voting on a Community Preservation Act tax increase, including Pittsfield, Holyoke, and Billerica.

In other communities, results on the measure were mixed. Boston, Chelsea, Holyoke, Norwood, Pittsfield, Springfield, and Wrentham adopted the tax. It was rejected in Danvers, Amesbury, East Bridgewater, Palmer, and South Hadley, advocates said.

Thadine Brown, the treasurer for a political group rallying in favor of the Community Preservation Act in Boston, said she was ecstatic to learn of the bill’s passage.

“To be a part of this was amazing,” Brown said. As a homeowner in Hyde Park, Brown was the key voice in the community group’s campaign. She said additional money for affordable housing would be key to keeping young professionals in the city.


Astead W. Herndon can be reached at astead.herndon @globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @AsteadWH.