This November, Boston voters (as well as those in Springfield and Holyoke) will decide if their cities will join the roughly 160 others across the state in adopting the Community Preservation Act. A positive CPA vote (item number 5 on the Boston ballot) will raise money that can only be used for open space preservation (including greenways), development of affordable housing, the acquisition and development of outdoor recreational facilities (including playgrounds, bicycling, and pedestrian facilities), and the preservation of historic resources.
If adopted, the average single-family Boston homeowner will pay about $28 per year – about $2 per month. Small business owners would pay between $100 and $250 a year. Including the projected state match, the city is expected to have roughly $20 million every year for CPA projects. It’s a small amount to pay for a very large return in increased quality of life. And voters can see exactly what their money is being used for via a database set up by the non-profit Community Preservation Coalition.
The program has been a huge success in those municipalities that have already adopted it since the enabling act passed in 2000; state-wide raising over $1.4 billion which has paid for over 8,500 units of affordable housing, 1,250 recreation projects, 21,800 acres of open space, and 3,600 historic preservation projects. Once adopted, no city has ever voted to repeal the CPA program.
FOLLOW THE MONEY
The money comes from both the city and a state match. Cities start the process by adopting a 1-to-3 percent property tax surcharge. Boston is proposing only 1% and, like many other cities, is excluding the first $100,000 of assessed valuation and exempting both low-income homeowners and low-moderate income seniors. Boston can also add other revenues (such as linkage fees, impact fees, hotel taxes, etc.) to their CPA Fund, in order to qualify for a higher CPA state match. The state matches the city money, originally dollar-for-dollar but more recently, as additional cities join, a declining percentage – now a bit below 30% but still amounting to millions of dollars for Boston.
By law, at least 10% of annual CPA funds must be used for projects in each of three areas: affordable housing, open space (excluding recreational uses), and historic preservation. Beyond that, the local Legislative body (e.g. Boston’s City Council) decides on how to divide the remaining funds among the four categories. Cambridge, for example, uses most of the money for affordable housing.
A FUND FOR LIVABILITY
Whether your priority is the environment, public health, physical activity or resilience, adopting the CPA – Yes on Question 5 in Boston – is a no-brainer. There is no significant opposition, not even from the real estate or construction industries. Mayor Walsh and nearly every office holder has expressed their support. Why not: the real estate market in adopting municipalities has not slowed; corporate investment in new facilities has not disappeared. If anything, the Boston-area real estate market has become over heated and too expensive – making the CPA even more important as a small but important counter to the profit-driven destruction of open space, the painful explosion of housing costs, the connection of increased recreational opportunities to both better public health and workforce retention.
It’s important to remember that even in this time of anger and cynicism, there are public programs that are transparent and good.
Thanks to Pam Kohlberg and Jeff Cook for their activism around the CPA.
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