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Boston: Adopt the Community Preservation Act

Chelmsford’s former town hall was renovated into the Chelmsford Center for the Arts thanks to funding from the Community Preservation Act.Joanne Rathe/Globe Staff/File/Globe Staff

Boston is on a roll. Downtown towers are rising, and as they soar, so does the value of Boston real estate.

Now is the time to leverage that growth, by adopting the Community Preservation Act. The law, enacted in 2000, allows municipalities to add a small surcharge to their property taxes — matched by state funding — to be used for affordable housing, parks, and historic preservation.

Since the law’s enactment, 160 cities and towns have embraced it. The Boston City Council should give Boston voters a chance to consider the option, by voting to put the CPA question on the November ballot. And Mayor Martin J. Walsh should get behind it too.

A campaign to win approval has been launched by advocates who want to add a 1 percent surcharge to residential and commercial property. There are exemptions for lower-income residents and senior citizens. And, the first $100,000 of residential and commercial property would also be deducted from the one percent calculation.


Full disclosure: Boston runs on property taxes. The tax on residential and commercial property generates about 67 percent of Boston’s operating revenue. Admittedly, that’s a lot. The surcharge authorized by the CPA would add slightly to that burden. But the spinoff is worth it.

Advocates say the 1 percent surcharge would raise $13 million in new tax revenue, with the bulk coming from the largest commercial properties. If the CPA is adopted, linkage money from housing and commercial development could also be put into the CPA-generated revenue pot and would also be eligible for matching state funds. Put it all together and, advocates estimate, the CPA will bring in $20 million a year in new revenue for Boston.

According to CPA advocates, the 1 percent surcharge would cost the average single-family homeowner just about $23. A small-business owner would pay an extra $100 to $250 a year. The big office towers would pay the most. But instead of seeing a 1 percent surcharge as a burden, downtown business owners should think of it as a means to a competitive edge — the ability to increase the city’s affordable housing stock. That’s key to attracting young, educated workers. If your property is doubling in value, there’s no need to oppose a tiny property tax increase — especially one aimed at specific goals that can be tracked through a database.


Boston voters rejected the CPA back in 2001, when the law was new and the economy was feeling the hurt of a post 9/11 malaise. These are different times. The economy is boomy. There’s more state money available and more flexibility in how the CPA-generated money can be used.

By giving a tiny bit more, Boston residents would get a lot more. With the CPA, the city can get more bang for its property tax bucks. And so does everyone else.