Testimony in Support of Boston Real Estate Transfer Fee

Mass Alliance of HUD Tenants

42 Seaverns Avenue/Jamaica Plain/MA/02130
617-522-5133/617-233-1885 [email protected]

Testimony in Support of H4637, Boston’s Home Rule Petition
relative to real estate transfer fees and senior property tax relief

To: Sen. Adam Hinds and Rep. Mark Cusack, Co-Chairs Date: June 7, 2022
Joint Committee on Revenue
Members of the Joint Committee on Revenue

From: Michael Kane, Mass Alliance of HUD Tenants (MAHT)

As a statewide tenants union representing low income tenants in government assisted housing, the Mass Alliance of HUD Tenants (MAHT) urges a favorable report this week for H4637, the Boston Home Rule Petition (HRP): An Act relative to real estate transfer fees and senior property tax relief.

The Committee is to be commended for favorably reporting several local HRPs (Nantucket, Somerville, Concord and others), empowering localities to raise real estate transfer fees and apply the resources for affordable housing in their communities. While time is short, the Committee’s recommendation gives these bills a greater chance at passage in this session. We urge you to add Boston’s HRP to these measures supported by the Committee.

In 2020, the Institute for Policy Studies published a Report, Money on the Table: Beacon Hill Inaction Stalls Affordable Housing Resources for Cities and Towns. Regarding Boston, the Report highlights two luxury residential buildings totaling 243 condos, The Dalton and Pier 4, demonstrating that Boston would have received $28.8 million in estimated revenue from the sale of condo units over $2 million, from these two buildings alone.

In 2020, MAHT identified more than 5,100 units in Boston’s luxury condo “pipeline” opening over the next two years (see attached chart). New luxury housing production has only accelerated since that date. In October 2021, MAHT identified more than 13,100 luxury high rise condo or rental housing units built since 2013 or in the pipeline in Boston. Passage of the Boston HRP will generate hundreds of millions of dollars for the City from increased transfer fees from sales of these high-end properties over the next several years.

Moreover, a substantial portion of the high end luxury condo sales are to overseas investors seeking a tax shelter or “wealth storage unit” to park speculative cash, with little or no intention of actually living in these units. The buyers and sellers of these super luxury condos can surely afford to pay 2% of the sales price for units selling over $2 million.

The vast majority of Boston’s residential sales, of course, are well under $2 million; the vast majority of Boston’s home and condo owners and buyers would experience no additional tax burden with the passage of H4637. And the luxury sellers would not pay a fee, on the first $2million of the sales price, only on the price above that amount.

In contrast to the other local real estate transfer HRPs, however, Boston’s HRP would also tap into another potentially vast source of revenue, from the sale of office and commercial properties in Boston’s booming downtown, Seaport, and other districts. As the hub of the Eastern Massachusetts economy, Boston has a high proportion of the commercial and office sector and has seen an explosion of new investment over the past 20 years. Allowing Boston to tax transfers over $2 million in this sector, would generate substantial additional revenue not otherwise available to the Commonwealth or smaller cities and towns, with no discernible adverse economic effects.

For example, in the year prior to June 2020, Boston registered 11 commercial/office transactions above $2 million each, totaling more than $2 billion in sales. Four flagship properties alone (245 Summer Street, 101 Federal Street, 109 Brookline, One Marina Park Drive) sold for $1.72 billion of this amount (source: Reonomy Report, 7/25/20). If Boston’s HRP had been in place, these 11 sales alone would have generated more than $40 million in revenue for affordable housing.

Most of the buyers or sellers of these properties, are not based in Boston. But they are benefiting from the enormous speculative boom in commercial real estate, linked to global investment trends, and fueled by Boston’s investment in infrastructure and development rights in the downtown/Seaport areas in particular.

One story will illustrate just how much money Boston—and the Commonwealth—are “leaving on the table.” In 2013, the Swedish construction company Skanska spent $159 million to build 101 Seaport Blvd, which opened in 2015. A year later, in 2016, Skanska sold the building to the German real estate fund, Union Investment, for $452 million—close to three times the development cost. With such extravagant windfalls at stake, a 2% tax would have had no effect whatsoever on this sale. In 2015, Skanska then spent $281 million to build 121 Seaport Blvd next door, selling it to American Realty Advisors and Norges Bank for $455 million in 2018, as the building completed construction. Had the Boston HRP been in effect, the City would have collected $18 million from these two transactions alone.

As the Boston Globe writer Tim Logan commented on April 12, 2016 on 101 Seaport, “The deal reflects the surging demand from foreign capital for trophy real estate in Boston. Roughly half of the major office towers in central Boston have changed hands in the past few years, many to international investors willing to pay top dollar.” While one can debate the desirability of foreign speculators playing Monopoly with Boston’s downtown real estate, there is no question that the City is missing out on a huge source of potential revenue due to the current limitations on the state real estate transfer tax, which has not been raised in 50 years. Taxing these transactions over $2 million at 2% will have no negative effects whatsoever regarding whether these transactions occur, or on the overwhelming majority of Boston’s property owners.

According to the City of Boston, passage of H4637 would enable Boston to reap up to $100 million annually in new revenues over the next five years. Some five times greater than the annual revenue generated by the City’s Inclusionary Zoning process, this additional revenue will go a long way toward addressing the City’s affordable housing crisis. Since luxury
development is itself fueling the over-the-top speculation in real estate values and displacement of lower income renters, particularly people of color, across the city, the least we can do is tap into a small fraction of these speculative profits, to create funds to address the rental housing crisis that result.

Boston is poised to spend this money rapidly, and well. In 2020, former Mayor Walsh created a pilot $5 million/year City funded Rent Subsidy Program from the regular City budget, modeled on the successful Local Rent Subsidy Program operated since 2007 by Washington, D.C. MAHT anchors the City Rent Subsidy Coalition, 32 groups that advocated to create this program and currently advises the Boston Housing Authority on program design and implementation. Today, the pilot program is already a success, housing more than 250 homeless families with children in the Boston public schools or others with urgent housing needs. Mayor Wu has proposed to increase the amount to $7.5 million/year, and the City Council is poised to increase it to $10 million/year. If H4637 is passed, and additional funds are made available, the City and the BHA
will be able to expand rapidly beyond 500 families who will be assisted this year.

Of the $100 million/year which Boston would raise by passage of H4637, if Boston were to dedicate $50 million/year to the City Rent Subsidy program, Boston could provide up to 5,000 Extremely Low Income (<30% of AMI) and/or homeless families with permanently affordable housing. This would go a long way toward getting homeless people off the streets and meeting the low income rental housing need of 21,100 families earning less than $25,000 per year, who need housing assistance to stay in Boston, according to the City’s Housing Plan, Housing a Changing City: Boston 2030.

At present, Massachusetts’ paltry real estate transfer fee ($4.56 for every $1,000 of sales) is dwarfed by New Hampshire ($15), New York ($12.50), Vermont ($12,50) and Connecticut ($10.52), applying to all sales in these states (i.e., no exemptions). If these states can collect as much as triple Boston’s ordinary rate, surely Boston can be allowed to collect 2% on deals over $2 million.

We ask the Revenue Committee to expeditiously and favorably report out H4637, and to urge legislative leaders to pass all these vital measures in the current legislative session. Thank you for your consideration. I can be reached at 617-233-1885 if you have any questions.

Water Leaks and Mold Mitigation Continues at Georgetowne

Tenants continue to report positive results from tenant advocacy. MAHT volunteer and Georgetowne resident Arthur Sutton is excited to report that his apartment has had mold remediation after problems with flooding. We know that mold can bring potential health issues, so this is great news. Apartments continue be inspected so we look forward to hearing more positive outcomes.


Kitchen and closet before mold removal


Kitchen after mold removal    

Kitchen and closet after mold removal


Victory for Georgetowne Tenants: Beacon Communities Commits to Surveying 100% of Units for Mold and Water Leaks

Following years of advocacy from tenant association Georgetowne Tenants United (GTU), property management company Beacon Communities has agreed to hire a contractor to survey 100% of Georgetowne apartments and address major issues after they are detected. This is a huge win for GTU, which has been urging the property management company to treat water leaks and mold as widespread, systemic issues for years.

Already, several Georgetowne tenants have reported that their units have been inspected and that Beacon has successfully addressed longtime infrastructure and mold issues. Check out these before and after photos from one Georgetowne tenant. Prior to the most recent renovations, this tenant experienced frequent floods (~1 per year) and had to run fans all day and night to prevent persistent moisture from forming mold and triggering her allergies. 


We look forward to sharing more stories like this one in the months ahead! 

VICTORY!! Governor Baker Lowers MRVP Tenant Rent Share by 10%; MRVP Codification Bill Receives Favorable Vote from Joint Committee on Housing

For years, MAHT has advocated for changes to the State’s Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program (MRVP). Thanks to pressure from MAHT and our partners at the Citizens’ Housing and Planning Associations (CHAPA), we are now seeing results.

On January 26th, Governor Baker released a FY2023 Budget Recommendation that outlines several significant changes to the MRVP. Included was a plan to lower MRVP tenant rent share from 40% to 30% of household income. This major change, which has long been spearheaded and championed by MAHT, will affect upwards of 9,500 low-income households. Lowering tenant rent share to 30% is within the Governor’s discretion to enact administratively, meaning that the Department of Housing and Community Development can make the change without going through the long budget setting process.

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Joint Committee on Housing Hears Hours of Testimony in Support of Rent Control

On Tuesday, January 11th, the Massachusetts Joint Committee on Housing heard over eight hours of testimony on several pieces of landlord-tenant legislation. Included were three of MAHT’s priority bills. Two of these bills were proposals to lift the 1994 statewide ban on the municipal adoption of rent control and other forms of rent regulation (H.1378/S.886 and H.1440). The third was a Boston Home Rule Petition (HRP), written by MAHT, to reestablish rent caps in former governmentally involved subsidized housing developments in Boston (H.4229).

The Committee heard testimony from countless local housing justice organizations, tenant activists, small homeowners, and elected officials from across the state. 

Several MAHT tenant leaders testified in support of our priority bills:

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MAHT Celebrates A Year of Tenant Organizing with a Virtual Holiday Party

On Saturday, December 11th, nearly 70 MAHT tenants and allies gathered on Zoom to celebrate a year of successful tenant organizing despite continually difficult pandemic circumstances.

The night began with some holiday tunes led by Boston-based musician Helena Ruffen, followed by an attempted Zoom sing-along. We then moved on to the award ceremony! Award recipients included:

  • The Forbes Building Tenant Association, for tirelessly working to save their homes from market rate conversion and re-file the Boston Home Rule Petition.
  • Georgetowne Tenants United, for helping to end mass evictions at Georgetown and open a dialogue with the Beacon property management company for non-punitive alternatives to eviction for tenants who fell behind on rent.
  • The Babcock Towers Tenants Association, for securing 56 Housing Choice Voucher from the Boston Housing authority and challenging illegal evictions in their building.
  • The Marcus Garvey Tenants Association, for hosting a successful rally with Representative Ayanna Pressley to publicize and gain support for the national Tenant Empowerment Act.
  • The East Canton Street Preservation Association, for working to hold luxury housing developers accountable to community promises and prioritize the development of low-income housing in Boston.
  • The City Rent Subsidy Coalition, for winning $5 million for low-income renters and prioritizing seniors and families with children.

MAHT also honored long time housing advocates Beverly Estes-Smargiassi and Katie Forde of the Boston Department of Neighborhood Development, as well as elected officials including City Councilor Matt O’Malley, Mayor Michelle Wu, and Representative Ayanna Pressley. We then heard remarks from Mayor Wu and Representative Pressley, expressing their commitment to continuing the fight for housing justice in the new year. Finally, we wrapped up the night with a piano performance by none other than MAHT Executive Director Michael Kane!

A huge thank you to all who joined us to celebrate a remarkable year of tenant organizing. We wish everyone a safe and happy holiday!

WinnCompanies’ Housing Stability Program Offers a New Model for Eviction Prevention

In 2018, WinnCompanies, a for-profit affordable housing property management company overseeing $14 billion worth of properties across the country, was Boston’s largest landlord and one of the City’s most frequent evictors. Today, thanks specifically to the work of retired Boston legal aid attorney Jay Rose and more generally to the entire anti-eviction movement, WinnCompanies has adopted a ground-breaking eviction prevention program centered on early intervention and housing stabilization, with the intention of cutting eviction rates by 50% over the next 5 years.

A recent Shelterforce article outlines the basic tenets of the WinnCompanies’ Housing Stability Program. Often times, a property management company first engages with tenants who are behind on rent when they send a Notice to Quit, which details the amount of rent owed and the date at which that amount must be paid in full to avoid being served a court summons. In contrast, the WinnCompanies’ Housing Stability Program implements a series of preventative measures to stop tenants from reaching the point at which they receive a Notice to Quit or a court summons in the first place.

These preventative measures involve proactively informing tenants of the WinnCompanies’ Housing Stability Program and tenant support options when they first move in and each time they renew their lease, connecting tenants who have unpaid rent with a Housing Stability Coordinator to support them in recertifying and applying for emergency rental assistance as soon as they begin to fall behind, and removing threatening or punitive bureaucratic language from rent collection letters. Importantly, if a tenant experiences a loss of income, the Housing Stability Program enables a property manager to apply on behalf of the tenant to recertify the amount of subsidy benefits they receive retroactively, to the date the income is lost, rather than to the date the loss is first reported. If WinnCompanies does serve a tenant a court summons, the Housing Stability Program instructs employees to set the court date as far out as possible, giving tenants the maximum 30 days to negotiate a manageable payment plan.

Already, the WinnCompanies’ Housing Stability Program has begun to shape the conversation around effective eviction prevention nationwide. Read more about the Housing Stability Program and its impacts here!   

Mayor-Elect Michelle Wu Shouts Out MAHT Tenants in Election Victory Speech!

On Nov 2, Boston elected Michelle Wu as the next mayor of the city. In her victory speech, the mayor-elect shouted out the Forbes Building and Georgetowne Homes, two MAHT-associated buildings we are working with! Thank you to the mayor-elect for recognizing MAHT tenants; we look forward to working with you to preserve and expand truly affordable housing for the people of Boston!

Boston Votes Yes to Pass Question 1!

On Nov 2, Boston residents voted to PASS Question 1 to increase the power of the City Council and citizens in setting the City's budget priorities!  MAHT endorsed this campaign and conducted outreach over several months to approximately 3,500 tenant voters about the upcoming election. On Election Day, our volunteers covered more than a dozen polling sites (8% of the total citywide) for the Yes on One campaign. WIth Yes on 1 passed, Boston's budget process will become more transport and participatory, giving more power to our city councilors and eventually Boston residents to have a say in the budget, as opposed to the mayor having sole power. This is big news for Boston!
MAHT's hard-working Civic Engagement Team also increased voter turnout at Georgetowne Homes by 5% over the last comparable election—shout out to the team of Robert Folan-Johnson, Luis Sanchez, Cheryl Broderick, Ivonne LaLyre, Karl Celis, Gerda Paullisant, Arthur Sutton,  Cherai Mills and Anelore Jacques!

Rally to Save the Forbes Building in Jamaica Plain

On Saturday October 23, Forbes Building tenants, neighbors and allies rallied to #saveourhomes and preserve the Forbes in Jamaica Plain as long-term, subsidized, truly affordable housing for seniors and persons with disabilities! 




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