With the Boston CPA Approved, How Should the Program be Administered?

Boston residents voted to adopt the Community Preservation Act by an overwhelming majority in November. The CPA is designed to create affordable housing, and preserve open space and historic sites through the creation of a local Community Preservation Fund. A one percent real estate tax surcharge on commercial and residential properties will go into this fund and will be administered by a nine-member Community Preservation Committee appointed by the city. Of the money generated by the CPA, at least 10 percent must be allocated to housing, 10 percent to open spaces, and 10 percent to historic preservation. The remaining 70 percent can be allocated to any one of those three uses at a different rate.

The City Council is responsible for creating the ordinance that will establish the Community Preservation Committee (CPC). The ordinance would establish the CPC’s composition, length of member terms, the method of selecting its members, and outline the responsibilities of the CPC.

NAIOP suggests that the CPC could be tasked with establishing the annual percentage allocations among the three categories of investments. Those budgets could then be provided to the City agencies best positioned, staffed, and experienced to review the proposals submitted through a “Request For Proposals” (RFP) process. The agencies’ recommendations for grants could then be reviewed by the CPC prior to submission to the Mayor and the City Council for final approval. This system would utilize the established expertise within the City agencies, rather than creating a parallel “review process” that might be limited by staffing and funding.

With respect to housing, it would be unusual for a CPC grant to be sufficient to fund new housing, rather than being a gap participant in the more complex financing structure. In that case, the Department of Neighborhood Development would be better suited to determine where these funds could best leverage the most housing (a similar arrangement exists under Somerville’s CPA). Again, their recommendations would still need to be approved by the City Council and the Mayor.

As with any new program, the devil is in the details.  For this to succeed, it is essential for the City to develop a rational, transparent, and cost effective process. Only then will the CPA be of the greatest good to Boston.