We’re falling behind in affordable housing, must demand real estate transfer fee now
I am proud to call myself a Cantabrigian. I am blessed to live in this city, not just for all the benefits it entails, but for living in a community that shares my progressive values. We as a City Council pride ourselves on being regional leaders on issues such as affordable housing, immigrant rights and environmental protections.
One issue on which we are falling woefully behind our regional allies, however, is the real estate transfer fee. This small fee on real estate transactions could generate millions of dollars to address the affordable housing crisis. I am reintroducing a fee proposal for the third time at the council meeting March 16, starting at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall, 795 Massachusetts Ave., Central Square. I encourage any residents passionate about affordable housing to attend and speak in support.
I testified in support of transfer fee-enabling legislation at the State House in January, along with my colleagues Jivan Sobrinho-Wheeler and Quinton Zondervan. We were surrounded by elected city officials from across the commonwealth, many of whom did not wait for the state Legislature to act and submitted their own home rule petitions for a transfer fee. The cities of Somerville, Boston, Nantucket, Brookline and Concord all overwhelmingly approved home rule petitions for transfer fees. The cities of Watertown and Arlington also introduced home rule petitions to their legislative bodies.
Yet Cambridge has been stagnant on the issue for years. The fee was first formally introduced to the City Council in 2017 by councillor Tim Toomey. I have introduced two policy orders since – last year in January and December. My last policy order requested that the city manager instruct the solicitor to draft language for a fee, of which there are now many examples to refer to. The council requested this language unanimously by January; it is now February and we are done waiting. Therefore, in consultation with affordable housing advocates, I will submit draft language at the March 16 meeting for discussion and deliberation.
Cambridge is missing out on a regional movement that will transform affordable housing funding in the commonwealth. Real estate values in Cambridge have gone up by 6 percent to 10 percent in the past 10 years alone, not even considering the decades prior that displaced longtime residents. A transfer fee would harness a small fraction of the financial prosperity of our great city and use it to help those not benefiting from our real estate boom. There is no excuse for us to lead from the rear while our allies fight the good fight in cities that may not be as progressive or affluent. We must join the coalition sooner rather than later and add our name to the chorus of voices demanding housing justice.
Dennis Carlone is a four-term Cambridge city councillor, as well as an architect and city planner.