The third Wednesday in January marks the end of formal sessions for the first year of the two-year legislative cycle. The end of the two years usually coincides with a windfall of activity on Beacon Hill. However, this past year went against that trend and ended with a flurry of activity to close out just the first year.
The biggest story of 2017 did not emerge until the end of the year when Senator Stan Rosenberg elected to temporarily step down as President of the Senate. Rosenberg has stepped down while an investigation is conducted into whether he violated any Senate rules in connection with allegations that his husband claimed to hold sway over the Senate and sexually assaulted men with business on Beacon Hill. The Senate elected Senator Harriette Chandler to serve as Acting Senate President during the course of the investigation. At this point Senators Linda Dorcena Forry of Dorchester, Eileen Donoghue of Lowell, Karen Spilka of Ashland, and Sal DiDomenico of Everett have expressed interest in becoming the next leader of the Senate, though it may be weeks or months before the investigation is complete.
Governor Baker’s Housing Choice Initiative
On December 11, 2017, the Baker-Polito administration announced a comprehensive new initiative to increase housing production across the Commonwealth. The administration’s Housing Choice Initiative creates a new system of incentives and rewards for municipalities that deliver sustainable housing growth, creates a new technical assistance toolbox to empower cities and towns to plan for new housing production, and proposes legislative changes. The legislation, An Act to Promote Housing Choices, promises to deliver effective zoning at the local level. The legislation would reduce the vote threshold for a number of key Realtor® zoning priorities, including accessory dwelling units, multifamily zoning, and cluster development, which are all key components of MAR’s H.O.M.E. Bill. This change would make it much easier to pass these pro-housing zoning changes at the local level.
The administration hopes these changes will encourage and empower municipalities to plan and build the additional housing that the Commonwealth needs to continue to thrive. MAR looks forward to working with Governor Baker, the legislature, and other housing production proponents to meet a goal of producing 135,000 new housing units by 2025.
Speaker DeLeo Fundraiser
On November 30, 2017, about a dozen Massachusetts Realtors® took advantage of the opportunity to attend a fundraiser supporting Speaker of the House, Robert DeLeo. The Speaker took time to talk with each Realtor® and showed a profound understanding of several key Realtor® issues, including taxes, housing production, and zoning.
On December 19, 2017, the Joint Committee on Housing held a hearing on legislation seeking to amend Chapter 40B of the Massachusetts General Laws, the state’s Affordable Housing zoning law. Chapter 40B enables local Zoning Boards of Appeals to approve affordable housing developments under flexible rules if at least 20 to 25% of the units have long-term affordability restrictions. Also known as the Comprehensive Permit Law, Chapter 40B was enacted in 1969 to help address the shortage of affordable housing statewide by reducing unnecessary barriers created by local approval processes, local zoning, and other restrictions. Many of the bills heard on December 19, sought to weaken the law by changing the definition of “affordable” or amending the law to make developments more difficult to build. MAR has historically opposed, and continues to oppose, changes to Chapter 40B that would weaken the law’s effect.
Energy Scoring Hearing
On November 6, 2017, MAR General Counsel Mike McDonagh and MAR Past President Laurie Cadigan testified before the Joint Committee on Telecommunication, Utilities, and Energy. They provided testimony in opposition to a bill that would require homeowners to conduct a MassSave Home Energy Audit and receive a home energy score prior to listing a home for sale. The testimony focused on the disruption such a policy would bring to the housing market, as well as the infringement on private property rights it would have. This bill is very similar to a proposal that Realtors® defeated last session. MAR will continue to work with the committee to encourage homeowners to make energy efficient upgrades to their homes.
Federal Tax Reform
The last big news for Realtors® to close out the year was the passage of federal tax reform. While NAR remains concerned that the overall structure of the final bill diminishes the tax benefits of homeownership and will cause adverse impacts in some markets, the advocacy of Realtors® helped NAR gain some important improvements throughout the legislative process. NAR’s efforts helped save the exclusion for capital gains on the sale of a home and preserved the like-kind exchange for real property. Many agents and brokers who earn income as independent contractors or from pass-through businesses will see a significant deduction on that business income. Be sure to visit NAR’s website for more information: http://narfocus.com/billdatabase/clientfiles/172/19/3062.pdf.
What to expect in 2018
After what some are calling a slow legislative year in 2017, the House and Senate have many issues that they can direct their attention to in 2018. Housing continues to be an issue that tops the list in both chambers of the legislature and the Governor’s office. MAR will be working to help pass meaningful and effective housing production legislation, while opposing any legislation that impedes new construction.
Another priority issue for Realtors® is a potential change to the Massachusetts tax code. The legislature plans to hold a hearing this month on policies to respond to changes to the tax code at the federal level. One important change at the federal level capped state and local tax (SALT) deductions at $10,000, increasing the liability on higher earners and property owners in Massachusetts and other states with relatively high taxes and property values. We will continue to update MAR members as the Joint Committee on Revenue begins its work.