LETTER: Community Preservation Act is Not A Good Fit for Watertown

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The CPA tax is the proverbial round peg in a square hole when it comes to Watertown’s already cash-strapped homeowners and renters. CPA funds can only be spent on projects involving: affordable housing, historic preservation, and open space/recreation.

Please consider these facts:

• Watertown property taxes will rise by 2 percent if the CPA passes. This increase will be passed on to many renters.

• The Watertown Housing Production Plan of 2014 said that 40 percent of Watertown households was “housing cost burdened,”meaning that housing costs consume more than 30 percent of their gross household income, according to federal estimates.

• Increasing property taxes makes homes less affordable for current Watertown residents.

• Historic preservation and recreation funding is already included in our town budget.

• Watertown has been proactive in increasing the number affordable units through inclusionary zoning. For private residential developments, the required set-aside of affordable units is 12.5 percent and 15 percent depending upon size and location.

• Matching CPA funds were 29.7 percent last year, down from 100 percent in the early years and will likely spiral downwards going forward given state revenue shortfalls, major budget constraints, and more communities getting a slice of the pie.

• Our schools are in dire need of upgrades. The estimated cost range is $165 million for basic renovations to $389 million for new construction.

Most disturbing is the timing of this initiative. This vote will occur before the crucial vetting and vote for a school tax override to fund needed school renovations given our growing student population, state and federal mandates, and our five aging school buildings.

It is time for a priority check in Watertown. Our schools should be our top priority. We can’t afford both. Proponents should know this! Why would you vote for this initiative when its sole purpose is to raise tax dollars for an unelected bureaucracy?

The answer is: You shouldn’t.

Let’s keep control of our tax dollars and prioritize schools.

John Labadini
Watertown Resident

20 thoughts on “LETTER: Community Preservation Act is Not A Good Fit for Watertown

  1. The statement that “Watertown property taxes will rise by 2 percent if the CPA passes” is incorrect. The 2 percent is a Surcharge Tax. For example, if your property tax bill is $5000, then the surcharge would be $100.

      • I should have said “misleading” as opposed to “incorrect”. Someone could misinterpret the statement to mean there would be an increase to the property tax rate (which there would not); it is a SURCHARGE TAX and not an increase to the property tax rate. The statement was grammatically correct, but it could be misinterpreted.

        • What is misleading is the semantics involved. Watertown residents taxes will indeed rise by 2%. Take your Annual property tax bill and multiply by 2%. That’s your so called “Tax Surcharge”. Period. Whats misleading is when the Pro side claims, its only 10 bucks a month, a couple of Starbucks a week. (they don’t mention its at least 5 years and probably in perpetuity. Or that that is an “estimate”. They also fail to mention the fact that approx 5000 homes are house poor paying over 30% toward rent/mortgage. I have had families come to me, leases in hand, asking me in broken English if there rent would go up. Haven’t seen a lease, or anyone come forward saying not in my case. Who is being misleading-we are simple stating the facts. This hurts hard working families most.

          • It is about $10 a month or about $124 a year for the average homeowner. At the end of 5 years The Community Preservation act can be repealed at any time. The CPA provides funding for Affordable Housing, which is much needed in Watertown and will help those most impacted by the rising costs of living. There are numerous examples of the CPA being utilized for this purpose in other cities and towns throughout Massachusetts (See Examples at http://communitypreservation.org/projects/new). I myself am a low-income renter. Although my lease does not have a clause regarding property tax increases, I am more than willing to pay an additional $10 a month to see improvements in my community.

  2. Mr “M”…There are any people in this town that perhaps can afford this (count me as one of them). I am speaking for the thousands who cant. I’m glad to hear you have the resources. Many don’t. These pesky facts the CPA folks leave out are quite frustrating. Fact is 30 % of ALL Single and 2 family homes are , in layman’s terms “house poor” meaning over 30% of THEIR income goes to rent/mortgage. Would you like to go tell what amounts to the heads of the household of 5000 dwellings that they now have to part with over 120 dollars a year for minimum 5 years? We have no idea what these family’s have to budget for. FIVE.THOUSAND.HOMES. Let that sink in, PLEASE. Meanwhile, if question 2 passes, Eggs immediately go up about 1 dollar a dozen. Do you have a crystal ball as to what gas will cost the next few years? Inflation??Cost of living?? Regular tax increases?? Family Emergencies? They add up to more than 10 bucks a month. Why isn’t Investinwatertown trying to raise this money privately? Many are admittedly well heeled. Why not hire a development person and solicit those who CAN afford this?? Why? Because they don’t want to work that hard and pick up the phone and ask for money. They can’t sell this on the merits and mechanism alone. Why? Because it’s severely flawed. So, they are making false promises to get votes by making it all sound sooooo wonderful. While the schools crumble. Are you suggesting you’re OK with taxing people, whose finical situation we know absolutely nothing about, except that they are in fact house poor?

    • The facts you mention are part of the reason I support the Community Preservation Act. Funds from the CPA can go towards helping those who are paying more than 30% of their income to rent/mortgage. I’d also like to point out that there are exemptions for homeowners who are low-income and for senior homeowners who are low to moderate-income. Watertown contributes to the CPA funds whether we adopt it or not by way of registry fees and income taxes. We should be benefiting from a fund that we contribute to. The CPA has been around since 2000 and 16 years later it continues to work wonderfully for the communities that have adopted it, 161 cities and towns to date. No community that has joined the CPA has ever repealed it. The reason no community has ever repealed the CPA is because it works.

  3. Maybe I am confused about how the taxes work in this town. But don’t the taxes go up 2.5% EVERY YEAR? I’m not sure why you are so hot under the collar about this 2%.

    • Im not hot under the collar I promise. It’s just that not enough people seem to know the intricacies of this. To answer your question about increase every year-it depends on the property. Many variables like owner occupied, etc. This CPA Tax is on top of that, and once we borrow against it, it stays until the debt is paid off. So if we borrowed 10 million for ten years, and repealed it after waiting 5 years, we are still on the hook for another 5 years. So a school override vote a year or two from now certainly needs to be taken into account. Some will end up with combined increases in double digits over the next 5 years. As property taxes increase and the town collects more money, there will certainly be more money in the budget for recreation and preservation. The new developments all have to have 10-15% set aside by law for affordable housing so that will be going up, as it should as well. For example, The Gables development on Arsenal Street is 296 units and 30 set aside for affordable. Isn’t that more efficient then paying a premium on the open market for a 3 Decker with tax dollars from folks?

      • Mr. Labadini, I assume that you have not done the research on the matter of the “Affordable Housing” Units at the Gables development on Arsenal Street. Many of the people who are in most need of affordable housing would not qualify for the “Affordable” units in the development due to the Minimum Income Limits for Households. For example, a mother of two working TWO FULL-TIME jobs at minimum wage making $41,600 would not qualify for the “Affordable” units, because the Minimum Income Limit for a 3 BR Unit is $49,200 and for a 2 BR Unit it is $44,820. The Minimum Income Limit for a 1 BR Unit is $40,470. In addition, the rent for a 1 BR Unit is $1,349+Utilities(about $156) = $1,505/month = $18,060/year, a household making $40,470 would be paying about 45% of their income towards rent and utilities. The rent for a 2 BR Unit is $1,494+Utilities(about $200) = $1,694/month = $20,328/year, a household making $44,820 would be paying about 45% of their income towards rent and utilities. The rent for a 3 BR Unit is $1,640+Utilities(about $247) = $1,887/month = $22,644/year, a household making $49,200 would be paying about 46% of their income towards rent and utilities.

        • Mr M, I looked at quite a few developments in Watertown and the minimum income requirements vary. My point is there are 10-15% being set aside by mandate. Please email me at johnlabadini@yahoo.com and I woudl be happy to discuss.

          • Mr. Labadini, my point is that there is no guarantee that households that are most in need of “Affordable Housing” will qualify to apply for the “Affordable” units set aside in a majority of the new developments due to Minimum Income Limits, as is in the case of The Gables. The likelihood is that other new developments will follow suit and have similar Minimum Income Limit guidelines. So, the mother of two working TWO FULL TIME MINIMUM WAGE JOBS will likely NOT QUALIFY to apply for the “Affordable” units set aside in the new developments.

  4. Getting readers the real truth about what is truly a well timed effort to circumvent the towns budgetary process, and the ramifications that will follow, is exhausting. I will write more tommorow and please feel free to email directly.

  5. John, I am tired of your and your comrades’ derogatory–often verging on slanderous–comments about your neighbors who favor the CPA. You portray them as evil schemers who are trying to game their neighbors, subvert the budget process, etc. In fact, many are good citizens who have real concerns about historic preservation, open space and so on. In light of the extreme development pressure at the moment, these concerns are not unfounded. Perhaps you disagree. Perhaps you could care less about historic preservation. But that does not make your neighbors malignant plotters hell bent on hoodwinking their fellow Watertown residents. You appear to be taking a page from the playbook of Joe McCarthy.

    • Read some of my other comments that offer numerous alternatives for these projects!! I’m sorry you feel that way. I am on record as supporting CPA endeavors and offering to help with them! Just not through a blanket tax on cash strapped citizens . I’ve offered numerous ways and offered to help raise money for these endeavors through private partnerships. And make no mistake, there is indeed some scheming gone on with how this is bring conveyed to the public-feel free to email you and I can get you more specifics

    • Mr Levendusky,
      Please, when you have a few minutes, take a look at this clip from Watertown Cable Access News. I dotn think I sound at all like Joe McCarthy. I am blessed with many friend in Watertown, some of them want to see the CPA here in Watertown. I don’t. I am not speaking of you or your neighbors. There are however, some officials who I think have been less than forthcoming about whats inside this CPA Law. First clip is from Watertown Cable Access News and another from Commonwealth Magazine. I hope you find them educational http://wcatv.org/watertown-weekly-news/community-preservation/ http://commonwealthmagazine.org/economy/downsides-of-prop-2%C2%BD-and-community-preservation-act/

      • John, thank you for your reply. I will be in touch and I will watch that clip. I too am concerned about affordability in Watertown and also share your concern that the schools take first priority. However I must say again that I am disturbed by some of the overheated rhetoric in letters that I have read on this subject and also on the subject of the Residential Design Guidelines. It seems to me that there are folks who are trying to divide Watertown into an “us” and “them”. I am not sure who us and them is, but what is implied is really turning me off.

        There is plenty in town and elsewhere that is worth getting worked up about. But I don’t think that it is necessary to be divisive and I am glad to hear that is not your intention. I wish that others, as well would engage in intelligent arguments and stop with the snide remarks about people and their motivations. For the most part, we are all neighbors and we all want the best for the town.

  6. Hi Folks,

    First, some braking news. Last night the Planning Board approved an increase in the amount of housing set-aside from 12.5% to 15% and other amendments regarding Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance §5.07 Affordable Housing Requirements. Draft Link: http://www.watertown-ma.gov/DocumentCenter/View/19792. This zoning amendment will now be voted upon by the Town Council within 90 days. It is expected to pass.

    As noted in the draft document:

    The Rent and Ownership Price Requirements are as follows (Draft, page 3)

    Total Project Size____Affordable Units_____Rental Price__________Ownership Price

    1 to 5 units …………………….. 0…………………………..NA ……………………………………NA
    6 to 19 units……………………12.5%………………….80% AMI…………………………..80% of AMI
    20 and over unit……………..15.0%…………………No less than 5% of the…………80% of AMI
    total units at 65% AMI
    &
    10% of total units at 80%
    AMI
    .
    Second, here is some info regarding the 2016 Affordable Housing Income Limits.

    Moderate Income is 100% of the Dept. of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Area-wide Median Income (AMI) figure; Low income is 80% of HUD’s AMI figure.

    Please note: Due to the definition of Low Income Housing in the CPA Statue, these Low income Limits are slightly different from HUD’s Low Income figures.

    AMI for a Family of four = $98,100

    Household Size (HH size)
    Low income limits – property owned & occupied by a non-senior (LI/non-senior)
    Moderate Income limits – property owned & occupied by a senior 60 or older (MI-senior 60+)

    HH size _____ LI/non-senior______MI/senior 60+
    1……………………$54,936……………………$68,670
    2……………………$62,784……………………$78,480
    3……………………$70,632……………………$88,290
    4……………………$78,480……………………$98,100
    5……………………$84,758……………………$105,948
    6……………………$91,037……………………$113,796
    7……………………$97,315……………………$121,644
    8……………………$103,594………………….$129,492

    Source: http://www.communitypreservation.org

    Hope this info clarifies some of the questions.

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