Governor’s ‘bold’ housing bill receives local support

Healey’s plan unveiled Wednesday would give towns the option to create a transfer fee and calls for seasonal community designation.

The Massachusetts State House. — Eunki Seonwoo

Massachusetts Governor Maura Healey has unveiled what would be a major investment in housing across the Commonwealth, a plan that includes support for a housing transfer fee that has broad support on the Island.

The so-called “Affordable Homes Act” includes a package of spending, policy and programmatic actions, and Healey’s office says it would be the largest investment in housing in the state’s history.

According to her office, the proposal includes “$4 billion in capital spending authorizations, 28 substantive policy changes or initiatives, three executive orders and two targeted tax credits.”

“All are directed at reducing barriers to the production and preservation of housing, and giving communities the tools to develop more housing where they need it,” Wednesday’s press release states. “The majority of the spending will have benefits for moderate- and low-income households.”

Likely most relevant to the Vineyard, the bill includes support for a proposed local option transfer fee, which would allow municipalities or regional affordable housing commissions to collect between 0.5 to 2 percent on high-end real estate transactions, and serve as the funding mechanism for a housing bank. 

The threshold under the proposal would be either $1 million or the median single-family home sales price for the county, whichever is greater. On Martha’s Vineyard, where the median home sales price is $1.4 million, the threshold would be the latter. The seller of the property would owe the tax, and proceeds would be deployed toward affordable housing development. 

The governor’s housing bond bill will also give homeowners the option of building accessory dwelling units (ADUs) by right in single-family zoning districts in all Massachusetts communities.

Additionally, the bill outlines a framework for seasonal communities designation, focusing on municipalities with “substantial seasonal variations in employment and housing needs.” The designation would allow for a local option property tax exemption to housing developers within seasonal communities. 

Though the bill and its attached policy proposals will still need to be reviewed by multiple state committees before being taken up by the legislature, Healey’s plan, unveiled Wednesday morning, has already garnered a massive amount of support from local lawmakers and housing advocates. 

“Our communities have long called for a local option Mansion Fee on multi-million-dollar home sales to support sustainable local housing,” Representative Dylan Fernandes said in a statement issued Wednesday. “The Governor came down to the Cape and Islands and not only listened to our concerns but pledged to address them and this bill delivers on that promise. . . This bill empowers our towns and cities with the flexible and powerful tools they need to provide fair, dignified housing to our communities.”

In a call with The Times, State Sen. Julian Cyr, D-Truro Cyr called the governor’s bill — particularly the proposal of the local option transfer fee — a “game changer.”

The fee, which would give municipalities the power to generate money locally, specifically for the production and preservation of year-round housing, is a necessary tool for combating the housing crisis, he said. “It’s essentially allowing us to help ourselves,” the state senator said. Having Healey’s support for giving communities the option to generate revenue through the fee is “absolutely huge.”

Earlier this year, some 200 Islanders, including residents on Nantucket, rallied at the Massachusetts State House, advocating for lawmakers to pass the transfer fee option.

The inclusion of a local option transfer fee in the Affordable Homes Act, he added, “is in no small part thanks to Islanders who have made their voices heard about what a dire predicament we are in.” 

In a statement to The Times Wednesday, Laura Silber, Island Housing Planner for the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, applauded Cape and Islands lawmakers for their continued advocacy on behalf of the Island, and praised Gov. Healey for backing a proposal vital in helping alleviate the Vineyard’s acute housing problem. 

“Thank you to the governor and the administration for their bold steps today,” she said; “particularly for recognizing the unique challenges facing seasonal communities as we struggle to keep our year-round communities from being pushed out by escalating real estate prices, and for recognizing the transfer fee as a key piece for funding the solutions.” 

The proposed policies are “a lifeline for communities where first-responders, healthcare workers, teachers, seniors and young people are simply priced out,” Nantucket housing director Tucker Holland added. “On the Islands, we have seen generational families forced to leave their homes and firefighters commute four hours for their jobs: this will help to keep people in the communities they love.”

Vineyard reps say It is now up to state lawmakers to consider and refine Healey’s proposal, where more work will be done through collaboration among local representatives, municipalities, and regional entities to ensure that the specifics of the bill meets the needs of each unique community.

“The cost of housing is the biggest challenge facing the people of Massachusetts. We said from day one of our administration that we were going to prioritize building more housing to make it more affordable across the state,” Governor Healey is quoted in Wednesday’s release. “The Affordable Homes Act delivers on this promise by unlocking $4 billion to support the production, preservation and rehabilitation of more than 65,000 homes statewide. It’s the largest housing investment in Massachusetts history. Together, we’re going to make our state a place where people can afford to move to and stay to build their future.”


Sam Houghton contributed to this story.