PROVINCETOWN — The state legislature has been roasted by the Boston Globe and WBUR for its slow pace of lawmaking this year — the first in which Democrats have held both the legislature and the governorship since 2014.
Nonetheless, both state Sen. Julian Cyr of Truro and state Rep. Sarah Peake of Provincetown are confident that Gov. Maura Healey’s $4.1-billion housing bond bill, one of her centerpiece priorities in her first year in office, will pass in 2024.
“There are a number of smaller bills that are stuck in committee,” said Cyr. “Often you need to find a larger legislative vehicle to get those advanced. The good news is that, on housing, we have that vehicle. The governor has identified this as one of her highest priorities, and we will have a bill here.”
“Don’t believe everything you read” about a stalled legislature, said Peake, a member of the House leadership. “We have done a very major gun safety bill, a nursing home and long-term care reform bill, a $58-billion budget, and a major supplemental addressing the migrant crisis. More will follow — including this housing bill.”
The state’s first secretary of Housing and Livable Communities, Ed Augustus, called Healey’s bill “the most significant housing legislation filed in Massachusetts since 40B, 50 years ago,” according to the State House News Service. In addition to allocating more than $4 billion, the bill would legalize accessory dwelling units, or ADUs, of up to 900 square feet in every single-family zoning district in the state.
Most of Provincetown is zoned for multifamily dwellings, and Eastham legalized duplexes town-wide in 2022 — but nearly all of Truro and Wellfleet are single-family zones.
According to a map produced by the Boston Globe Spotlight team, 78 percent of single-family lots in Truro, 79 percent in Wellfleet, and 92 percent in Eastham are large enough to hold an ADU.
Healey’s bill, currently numbered H.4138, would also allow tenants to seal court filings related to “no-fault” evictions, preventing those records from appearing on their credit reports and harming their ability to find new housing. A similar provision passed the legislature but was vetoed by Gov. Charlie Baker in 2021.
The bill also includes a local-option real estate transfer fee on the portion of a home sale over $1 million — a provision that Provincetown, Truro, Wellfleet, and Chatham have endorsed at recent town meetings. But towns would have to vote to implement the transfer fee again after Gov. Healey’s bill is signed.
Partly as a result of years of advocacy work for a transfer fee by housing leaders on Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard, and Cape Cod, the bill also includes a new “seasonal communities” designation and a Seasonal Communities Coordinating Council that can develop policies tailored to the problems of the state’s beach and mountain towns — such as an acute need for mid-market housing opportunities that are generally not subsidized by the state.
“We brought this up to Secretary Augustus during a meeting on the transfer fee, and we’re extremely grateful that it resonated,” said Tucker Holland, Nantucket’s housing director. “Seasonal communities have unique challenges.
“I have profound respect for the 40B law, for example, but it’s not working as intended on Nantucket, where new market-rate units sell for $2 million,” Holland said. “We think there could be a special provision in seasonal communities where half the new units in a 40B project go to year-round residents.”
The Vail Program
One policy idea that has garnered support in seasonal communities recently — a deed restriction program to create a “second market” of year-round-only housing that was developed in Vail, Colo. and copied in Lake Tahoe, Calif. — is not in Healey’s bill.
Provincetown, Nantucket, and the six towns of Martha’s Vineyard have all filed home rule petitions to allow them to purchase this type of deed restriction, which requires residents (either owners or renters) to live and work in the county but does not include any income limits or verifications.
Sen. Cyr has also introduced a bill that would establish the year-round-only deed restriction as a local option that towns across the state could use, he said. He is trying to bundle that bill, S.861, into the larger housing bill.
“One of the uses of home rule petitions is to get a number of towns on the record as wanting a certain policy,” Cyr said. A statewide local option can become the vehicle for securing that policy.
“The big train is now moving — the hearing on the governor’s bill is in January — so you’ll hear a lot more about all of this soon,” Cyr said.
The home rule petitions could also move forward separately, Peake said. “I haven’t heard anything negative, so like all home rule bills, we will keep working it through the system,” she said.
Transfer Fee at Town Meetings
The housing bill will still be in flux when warrants for annual town meetings begin to open and close this February and March. Cyr said, however, that he wants to see more home rule petitions for transfer fees on town meeting warrants this spring.
“This is not an easy issue; there are opponents,” Cyr said at an Oct. 24 event with Gov. Healey in Yarmouth that was covered by the State House News Service.
“What I need from you and all our municipal friends here,” Cyr said, are “home rules on transfer fees on spring town meeting warrants across the Cape and Islands showing our support for this policy.”
Those home rule petitions would almost certainly not become law, as they would be superseded by the governor’s housing bill. Nonetheless, discussions of them could become heated.
Healey’s proposal allows towns to adopt any amount between half a percent and two percent as the transfer fee on the part of a sale over $1 million. The entire amount raised would be dedicated to housing and would depend greatly on the percentage chosen.
The percentage that is endorsed by town meeting voters next April or May could easily become precedent for town meeting votes that October — when the transfer fee might be a reality, not just a proposal.
Cyr told town leaders at the October event in Yarmouth to “sink your teeth” into that fight.
“We have got to move housing policy forward,” Cyr said. “This is not a problem that we can just solve on Beacon Hill, for better or worse.”