THIS ELECTION DAY, Bostonians will have an opportunity to help the city address three critical needs: affordable housing, protection of open space, and historic preservation.
With a “yes” vote on Question 5, Boston would adopt the Community Preservation Act, and add a nominal 1 percent surcharge on property taxes. The surcharge would generate $20 million a year in new revenue — $16 million from the city and $4 million in state matching funds — which must be targeted to the specific uses noted above.
On a crowded ballot, Question 5 is worthy of attention and support. Since 2000, when the CPA first became law, more than 160 cities and towns have reaped the benefits that go with its adoption. Boston community activists tried once before to pass it and failed. This time, however, an unusually expansive and diverse coalition backs up the effort. It’s led by the Massachusetts Affordable Housing Alliance, the Massachusetts Association of Community Development Corporations, the Trust for Public Lands, and Historic Boston, with support from labor and religious groups, community sports leagues, and local artists.
Question 5 backers are lucky to have a mayor unafraid to put his political capital on the line. Mayor Martin J. Walsh is leading the charge for the CPA, and the business community is either staying neutral or going to bat for it. John Fish, the CEO of Suffolk Construction Company, and Jack Connors, a philanthropist and longtime civic leader, are helping Walsh make his case to the broader business community. They deserve credit for that, and so do a core group of developers who have joined the Yes for a Better Boston coalition.
The city estimates the average homeowner would pay an additional $24 a year. Lower-income homeowners and seniors are exempt from the surcharge. Big property owners will bear the biggest burden, since the lion’s share of the new revenue would come from downtown real estate developers. As the business community often points out, affordable housing is key to Boston’s future. This is an opportunity to put money behind that principle and help give Boston the competitive edge it needs to attract more young professionals.
If Question 5 passes, it will bring predictable revenue to Boston in good times and bad. Right now, times are good. The value of commercial downtown real estate has soared over the past six years. Buildings are going up everywhere. Cranes abound. If not now, when? The breadth of the coalition behind Question 5 proves this is the right time to do the right thing for Boston.