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Broad support for ‘yes’ vote on Community Preservation Act

Boston CPA proponents face no formal opposition

Jule Pattison-Gordon

The committee advocating passage of the Community Preservation Act in Boston is counting on a broad base of support — including Boston city councilors, senators, state reps and more than 150 endorsing organizations — to bring ballot victory in November. Thus far, no formal opposition has emerged — though some groups have declared themselves neutral — yet the campaign remains focused on spreading awareness of the issue and what it would mean for residents.

On the web

Calculate your CPA surcharge amount: http://cpainfo.boston.gov/index.html?pid=0303584000#resultContainer

If Question 5 passes, the measure will implement a one percent surcharge on Boston property taxes and direct the revenue to initiatives that support affordable housing, open spaces and historic preservation. A committee would determine exact revenue distribution among the three and which initiatives to fund to advance these goals.

“Many people have not heard of it,” said Joe Kriesberg, president of the Massachusetts Association of Community Development Corporations and chair of the pro-CPA campaign committee. “For most people, interacting with us is their first time engaging around it.”

He told the Banner that while many residents have responded favorably to canvassers, Boston has so many voters that speaking with everyone is a struggle — and it is hard to predict how anyone not reached by their messaging will vote.

Those in favor say the CPA would provide much-needed affordable housing, improve resident quality of life and preserve Boston’s historic and natural attractions. Dissenting voices include those who question the city’s ability to select effective initiatives and its emphasis on revenue generation through property taxes.

Among the supporters is Mayor Martin Walsh, whose administration anticipates the CPA could generate an estimated $16.5 million or more per year toward the causes.

Yes For a Better Boston

The pro-CPA ballot committee goes under the name Yes for a Better Boston. Along with Kriesberg, the team includes treasurer Thadian Brown, as well as one field director and three organizers, who manage the canvassing efforts of the larger coalition. The coalition reports approximately 100 volunteers of its own as well as several hundred volunteers from partner organizations.

The committee has engaged services of campaign manager Taylor Maher of CK strategies, as well as CK strategies’ Chris Cohen and Kate Norton as consultants. Gemma Martin of the Chick Montana Group is the consultant handling filings with the Office of Campaign and Political Finance.

Campaign outreach

As of last week, the campaign had approximately $300,000, with much of it coming from approximately 200 individual donors as well as coalition member organizations, Kriesberg said.

The committee deemed TV and radio ads outside its budget, but should finances allow, digital ads may be added to the toolkit.

Currently, Yes for a Better Boston is focusing on social media and on-the-ground measures. This includes door-knocking; distributing flyers at festivals, parades and other community events; speaking at community events and professional organizations; and spreading the word through electronic newsletters and social media, Kriesberg said. He was scheduled to speak at a church last Sunday.

The committee also has asked coalition members, supportive officials and other endorsing organizations to engage voters in their networks.

Endorsements

Along with Mayor Walsh, senators and state representatives in support of the measure include Russell Holmes, Byron Rushing, Linda Dorcena Forry, Will Brownsberger, Sal DiDomenico, Evandro Carvalho, Dan Cullinane, Sonia Chang-Diaz, Kevin Honan, Mike Rush, Liz Malia, Adrian Madaro, Jay Livingstone, Edward Coppinger and Dan Hunt. Sherriff Steve Tompkins also endorsed Yes for a Better Boston.

Councilor Michael Flaherty sponsored an earlier version of the CPA bill in 2001 and Andrea Campbell joined him in sponsoring this new iteration. Eleven Boston city councilors have added their names to the list of CPA supporters. The only councilors who did not endorse are Bill Linehan and Mark Ciommo.

Local impact

If the CPA is implemented, residents will pay a one percent surcharge on their revised net property tax (not the value of their property). Exempted from the surcharge is the first $100,000 of the property’s assed value.

City officials said previously that they expect the majority of revenue to come from commercial properties — which already are taxed at a higher rate. Depending on its size, a business may pay $100 to $200 a year as surcharge, according to Yes for a Better Boston’s Kriesberg.

That revenue, in turn, is directed toward the three priority areas — housing, open space and historic preservation — but flexibility remains in how those goals are reached. A five-to-nine person committee will be established and given responsibility for selecting initiatives to fund in order to advance each goal. At least ten percent of CPA revenue will go to each of the three priorities, with the committee deciding how to allocate the remainder among them.

Dissension

Among those who oppose the measure is Skip Schloming, executive director of the Small Property Owners Association. He said he opposes the CPA because it would increase taxes while directing a portion of the revenue toward affordable housing approaches that he believes are not working.

Schloming’s bone of contention is city efforts to achieve affordability seem to focus on subsidizing nonprofits that create new units for low-income levels. This, he says, is ineffective and expensive.

“I don’t agree with the Community Preservation Act’s focus on affordable housing,” Schloming told the Banner. “The Community Preservation Act can give seed money to get subsidized affordable housing up and running, but [such projects] still depend on continuing subsidies like section 8 vouchers or project-based subsidies. Both of those are based on taxpayer money.”

Instead, Schloming advocates for what he sees as a more cost-effective solution: private small landlords providing units by fixing up older buildings to a level that is safe and functional, but may have minor code violations or cosmetic issues. For instance, he said, rents can be lowered if landlords are allowed to let stand small cracks, lead paint in households without young children, and leak stains, while resolving critical issues such as the leak itself, any infestations and nonfunctional utilities.

“It’s inherently cheaper to have private developers make old housing and to have laws making it easier for private landlords to provide affordable housing,” he said.

Earlier this year, the city council voted 12-1 to put the CPA on the ballot, with Bill Linehan opposing. According to meeting minutes, Linehan said he supported the funding targets but wished to call attention to what he saw as the city’s overreliance on property taxes and the need to diversify city revenue sources. His office did not provide comment by Banner press time.