At the 35th Annual Margaret C Carlson Realtor® Day on Beacon Hill this past June, Realtors® met remotely with their state legislators to discuss MAR’s 2019-2020 legislative priorities. It is important for you to know what MAR supports and opposes so you’re able to discuss it with your clients, neighbors, and friends.
An Act to promote housing choices (H.4263) – MAR supports this bill as part of a diverse coalition of real estate interest groups. The bill promotes community-supported development, aligning Massachusetts with national norms as we are one of only ten states that require a supermajority to change local zoning rules. H.4263 changes local voting requirements from a 2/3rds super majority to a simple majority for 10 zoning changes that promote best practices for housing growth. Examples of the 10 zoning changes include:
Enhancing community ability to add housing with 10% affordable units in commercial centers and near public transportation.
Promoting starter home and resource protection zoning districts.
Reducing parking requirements.
First Time Homebuyer Savings Accounts (H.2456 and S.1628) – First time homebuyers face unprecedented challenges such as record highs in home prices and student loan debt. First time homebuyer savings accounts will help expand access to the American dream of home ownership. They allow future home buyers or their families to deposit up to $5,000/year into a savings account and claim it as an income tax deduction. Gains are tax exempt and deductions are permitted for up to 15 years and $50,000. Incentivizing home ownership has many benefits. Home ownership contributes to community responsibility; civic, economic, business and employment stability; family security and well-being. In addition, new home buyers average $75,000 in related expenditures.
GreenWorks Climate Resiliency Bill (H.3997) – This bill unanimously passed House on July 24, 2019. It funds $1.25 billion in climate resiliency measures through bonding, spreading the burden of paying for this community-wide benefit to everyone in Massachusetts. The bill lays out several measures to help climate resiliency efforts including encouraging electrification of vehicle fleets and helping municipalities take key climate resiliency steps with funds and personnel.
RAFT Expansion – The Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT) program provides funds for households facing instability as a result of COVID-19-related loss of wages or increases in expenses. The severe economic impacts of the COVID-19 state of emergency have taken an immense toll on the real estate industry. Unprecedented numbers of homeowners and renters have fallen behind on their rent and mortgage payments. While they benefitted from temporary protections in the emergency housing law, loss of wages and jobs will have a longer-term impact that only access to additional funds through the RAFT program can repair. Expanding access to and funding for this key program will go a long way to protecting housing stability and transitioning back to a fully functioning economy after the state of emergency.
Permit Extension --COVID-19 has caused significant and unforeseen development delays. However, building permit clocks requiring developers to break ground within 6 months of issuance continue to run. In normal times, this assures that projects move along in a timely manner, but today it will likely mean that many are abandoned. To address this issue and encourage much needed housing expansion, MAR supports extensions of building permits. Many projects were prohibited from starting because of construction moratoriums and development costs continue to balloon. COVID-19 economic and safety issues that undermined the start of projects were not the fault of developers or town officials who granted permits. Instead, they were the result of unprecedented circumstances. With development already facing incredibly high burdens in Massachusetts and the state in desperate need of additional housing to help address its longstanding housing crisis, permit extensions are a simple solution. They will give developers the time they need to adapt to new norms and continue their important work.
Transfer Taxes - Transfer taxes impose a sales tax on homes. They exacerbate Massachusetts longstanding housing affordability crisis by increasing the price of homeownership, often by thousands of dollars. This raises the barrier to homeownership many families already face due to the high cost of housing in Massachusetts. Rentals are also impacted, as increased tax costs will be passed along to tenants. Transfer taxes also undermine the basic tenet of fairness in tax policy by forcing home buyers and sellers, about 2.5% of the population per year, to be the sole direct funders of community-wide responsibilities. Finally, they are not a stable funding source. The housing market is at best cyclical and often volatile. While MAR works to foster the strongest possible real estate market, it is unrealistic to expect stable funding from transfer taxes.
Rent Control – MAR opposes H.1316 and rent control in all forms. Rent control reduces the quality and quantity of available housing. It disincentivizes property owners and developers from investing in multifamily projects and properties because they will be unable to make those funds back. In addition, while it is designed to help those in-need, it actually un-levels the playing field, harming lower income individuals who will find units in disrepair and shrinking inventory. Finally, rent control is unfair. The costs of affordable housing should be borne by the entire community, rather than a small segment of private property owners.
Mandatory Home Energy Audits – MAR opposes S.1983 and S.1922 requiring home energy audits. Instead, we support a property owner’s ability to voluntarily obtain an energy inspection. Low audit scores stigmatize properties, with a disparate impact on older homes. Massachusetts has some of the oldest housing in the country, much of them located in less affluent communities where residents have fewer resources to invest in expensive energy efficiency measures. In addition, mandatory energy scoring causes delays, disruptions, and increased costs. The market already accounts for energy efficiency, driven by consumers and Realtors®, with optional audits and MLS listing information. Finally, mandatory energy scoring violates property rights and raises Constitutional concerns by requiring 3rd parties to enter a home.
MAR sprang into action in early March with the declaration of a state of emergency in Massachusetts. With our standard legislative priorities on-hold, we advocated on behalf of our members to maximize their health and safety while minimizing negative impacts of the pandemic on real estate. We are proud to share the following accomplishments:
Securing smoke and carbon monoxide detector inspection deferrals through an emergency order and provide a contract addendum for members.
Adding Real Estate to the essential industry list, helping members to continue working and permitting brick-and-mortar offices to remain open during the state of emergency.
Working with the Department of Unemployment to assure Realtors® qualify for unemployment benefits created by the CARES Act.
Including 180-days of mortgage forbearance to protect homeowners in the COVID-19 Housing law.
Successfully advocating for enactment of a remote online notarization law to maximize health and safety in the homebuying process.
Providing guidance and forms for the short-term rental industry impacted by emergency orders limiting their recreational use.