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Council to seek power to temporarily tweak commercial property tax collection higher

The Boston City Council today approved a request to the state legislature for permission to temporarily increase commercial tax rates to try to shield homeowners from a potentially huge increase should downtown office-building assessments collapse as many workers continue to stay at home.

The measure passed 8-4-1. Councilors Breadon, Coletta Zapata, Fernandes Anderson, Louijeune, Pepén, Santana and Weber voted yes; FitzGerald, Flynn, Murphy and Worrell voted no and Mejia voted "present."

Backers, including City Councilor Gabriela Coletta Zapata (East Boston, Charlestown, North End), said they hope the city would not have to use the power, should it get it, but that it will provide an extra tool to help homeowners - in particular the elderly and apartment dwellers - over a four-year period allowed for in the proposal. The measure, if the city uses it, would not mean decreased taxes for residential property owners, but would buffer increases that would otherwise be necessary because of the need to balance the total amounts of tax revenue the city can bring in from residential and commercial classes of property - by reducing the tax decreases commercial property owners would otherwise see.

Coletta Zapata said she does not want to harm skyscraper owners, but she is more concerned about what happens to homeowners who find themselves priced out of the city. "Everyday Bostonians drive our economy as much as these major corporations do," she said.

She and Councilors Sharon Durkan (Back Bay, Beacon Hill, Fenway, Mission Hill) and Liz Breadon (Allston/Brighton) said the measure would be a tool that they hope they don't have to use, but would be grateful to have if it turns out the city has to.

Durkan referred to a toolbox she has in her kitchen: "If I need a wrench, I hope that it's there. This is our wrench."

Two opponents of the measure - City Councilors Ed Flynn (South Boston, South End, Chinatown, Downtown) and Erin Murphy (at large) - warned the measure would likely mean the end of Boston, that the temporary change would make businesses flee the city, starting what Flynn called an "urban doom loop" that would end with a city completely empty of any jobs because all the employers would have moved elsewhere.

Flynn blasted the nerve of private employees who continue to work at home and said it's time their employers - both businesses and non-profit groups - crack the whip and make them get back to work in their downtown offices, to help downtown. He slammed the city's own Zoning Board of Appeal and the BPDA, which continue to hold their hearings and meetings online instead of in City Hall. What a poor example they are setting, he said.

"We can no longer afford all sectors of our economy to work from home indefinitely," he said.

He called for a blue-ribbon commission to find ways to raise revenue without affecting tax rates.

Murphy went even further and blasted an administration that "plays to its base" through a proposal that will further "snub and insult the business community."

She linked the tax issue to the failed effort to move the O'Bryant School from Roxbury to West Roxbury and city efforts to ram bike lanes down the throats of various neighborhoods and said it all proves that Boston is becoming a city on the verge of collapse because of a deliberate, doctrinaire effort to avoid looking at alternatives. "When did we become a city that gives up on new ideas and innovative solutions?" she asked, also blasting a buildup of mystery mid-level managers at City Hall whose tasks she does not get.

Then turning back to the issue directly at hand, she continued, "Worcester, Providence or even Charlotte, NC would be absolutely thrilled with this proposal" because it will drive Boston businesses to them. The measure won't help homeowners stay in Boston when "they're not being able to find a job because all of the businesses have left town," she said.

She called for alternate sources of income, like, say, Harvard. Endowment of $51 billion and it pays Boston a pittance in lieu of taxes and that needs to stop, she said. "This is the ultra rich getting richer on the backs of working class families," she said.

Durkan followed Murphy and expressed anger - possibly for the first time in her months on the council - at Murphy and Flynn. She said she probably has some of the biggest commercial property owners in the city in her district and yet she cannot help but side with homeowners who got double-digit tax increases this year - and could face more next year.

Councilor John FitzGerald (Dorchester) said commercial property owners have gotten slammed in recent years, not just by Covid-19, but escalating fees and health-insurance costs, city greenhouse-gas regulations and all those people working at home. "They're hurting," he said, and the measure would not really help homeowners over the long run, because their taxes would still go up, just maybe not as much over a four-year period, so the end result would be "residents will see any increase in the income tax and raise their fists and say 'what did you do to us?' "

He called for more work at City Hall to tighten budgets, look for new streams of revenue - he mentioned taxing "non-essential goods" - and making a conservative drawdown from the city rainy-day fund.

Breadon agreed with Murphy and FitzGerald that the city needs to look harder at alternative sources of revenue, if not specifically Harvard. She said 73% of the city budget not comes from property taxes, compared to 55% in the past, and that that's simply unsustainable.

Breadon added that if the city does get the power to temporarily increase the total tax haul from commercial property, it would not be the first time - the city won a similar measure during the Menino administration, it worked and then it expired.

PDF icon Tax-rate proposal256.24 KB


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Maybe we should plow some business space downtown to make way for high-rise residential buildings with supermarkets, pharmacies, and restaurants on the ground level.

Like the reverse of the West End urban "renewal"...


Who will put up the financing for these “ high-rise residential buildings with supermarkets, pharmacies, and restaurants on the ground level.”Several of them were put up during the super low interest rate environment that existed up till a couple years ago. But that isn’t coming back anytime soon

It doesn't matter what the city wants if developers don't think it will generate enough return on their investment.

It removes the demo costs by the city paying for it. Look up the destruction of the West End. The Fair Deal gave "urban renewal" funding. The city designated the West End as a "slum" and used the federal funding to demolish it. Then gave the land to developers to build a less dense, slightly nicer set of residences, etc.

We need the opposite. Demolish half of the Financial District and give the land to developers to make taller, denser housing (some FOR SALE and some FOR RENT).

We've been fucking around with helping the developers to "build housing inside old office buildings" but we should just do it right and spend now to reap later the increased business and housing taxes when people can live closer to the center of town (reduces stress on MBTA too since fewer people have to come into town from further out).

A question really needs to be asked here.....why did Mejia vote present? Could it be that this "progressive" actually has some big donors who are some of the heavy hitters in the commercial real estate market that made her to decide not to vote on the side of the homeowners in the city? Another example of getting elected as a voice for the unheard, then when those funding her political career may be impacted negatively, she votes "present". Absolutely no backbone or courage. Shameful.


Makes it clear who the progressives are, and who the corporation-humping centrist trash is.


Ideological idiot.

Every community in MA is seeing a need for property taxes to increase, this is not a Boston only issue. However, unlike most other areas in MA, Bostons revenue is primarily from commercial real estate. The rate is significantly higher than residential which is consistent with every other municipality in the country.

While I wouldn’t be concerned with business moving out of state, I would be concerned with them moving locally to areas around the 128 belt.

Before raise anyone’s taxes, spending should be seriously looked at, a centrist and moderate approach.

BPS for one, continues to bleed students but continues to see significant budget increases YoY. Also its real estate holding is bloated.

Most colleges/universities in Boston, less UMB are run as for profit entities and should be taxed as such.

Theres more than one way to skin a cat.

Ed is wrong at thinking for profit companies trying to attract and retain talent are going to crack the whip just for the benefit of Bostons tax revenue.


at least we can have an Olympic sized belly flop when this gets to the legislature.

The Mayor has little support and NO respect in the house. I suspect something will be approved but it will be much scaled back and could include some performance triggers on CoB expenses.

The administration's current approach to multiple issues is to reach their own conclusion, and then ram the action through the process as quickly as possible. They pay lip service to a public process in order to stifle dissent. In the case of commercial property, the entire focus of the discussion has been on downtown office buildings, which are assumed to be a large herd of cash cows, owned by anonymous wealth hoarders. What no one even mentions is the fact that commercial use classification and taxation applies equally to all properties used for commercial purposes. That includes every corner store, bodega, sub shop, florist, pub, and every other small business in every neighborhood in the city.

Murphy is absurd but she's not wrong that Harvard doesn't pay its fair share. None of the colleges even pay what the VERY minimal SUGGESTED payment is, let alone the fair share value.

FitzGerald too, is a mix - boohoo billionaires, fuck off, but also, why can't the city make a rainy day withdrawal? Isn't a messy transition in the economic environment spurred on by a national disaster something that counts as a rainy day? Is there really nowhere in the budget the city could tighten up?

Flynn blasted the nerve of private employees who continue to work at home and said it's time their employers - both businesses and non-profit groups - crack the whip and make them get back to work in their downtown offices, to help downtown. He slammed the city's own Zoning Board of Appeal and the BPDA, which continue to hold their hearings and meeting online instead of in City Hall.

City officials shouldn't be in the business of encouraging corporations to be taking yet more choice away from workers. They want to work at home, let them work at home. If the city wants to make downtown thrive again, they can make it 1) affordable, 2) useful, 3) interesting, 4) safe. Think creatively about spaces to encourage downtown, activities, events, projects, and citizen engagement to sustain city tax revenues, instead of relying on miserable cattle-prodded employees shuffling back and forth in the soulless exercise of office labor for the benefit of capitalists.

Also, when trashing virtual meetings, Flynn would do well to remember accessibility for those who can't do things in person.


Into push cart areas with lots of hot dogs and burritos and Harvard apparel!


For more money while this meeting took place.

Hint, they’re the largest line item in the city’s budget.

the city council should be doing all this can to pressure the state administration to prioritize fixing the MBTA. And the state should be pressuring the feds.

remote workers can't return in meaningful numbers if there are no reasonable ways to get into boston on a daily basis. The T is a mess. The commuter rail is a mess. And car traffic is at an all time high, which then makes public busses a mess.

raise the gas tax. issue bonds. do something.

the state cannot afford for Boston to go into a recession. strike that, New England cannot afford if Boston goes into a recession. Boston is the economic engine of the northeast, plain and simple, but it won't be for much longer if the shit ass condition of our public transportation remains unchanged.


Double what was expected. Don’t tell me there’s a money issue. It’s called a greed issue.


1) that money is huge, but should not be considered as a stable revenue source. BU just released a study about the impacts of people leaving the state and how it is expected to increase dramatically, and predominantly from the high income tranche of our residents.

2) that money is not actually guaranteed to be applied to trasit issues

3) 1.8 billion is nowhere near what the state needs to fix public transportation after Baker did everything in his power for eight years to destroy it, on top of the damage (aka the big dig debt) he did to the t's balance sheet during his time as secretary of finance

However, the $1.8b is now. Use it to try to start fixing the MBTA. Will it fix it? No, but it sure as shit will help and we need to start somewhere.

For what it's worth, I've been reading about supposedly popular moving destinations like Nashville, and Nashville is apparently starting to see rising rents and homelessness. I live in Newton(Newton Corner to be specific) and I tell people I'm not budging because I work at home and I'm able to live without a car. People decamp for places like Tennessee, Texas, North Carolina, Florida, etc., and find out expenses are rising everywhere and that they need a car and car insurance. For the record, I use MBTA buses, and they work quite well.


They are for profit businesses and they should be on the table for higher taxes. The gas tax should be raised too.

It’s time to tighten the belts not squeeze the business community.


They need to stop making money off tax breaks.

Also, what tax breaks are you aware of?

Small businesses are what make Boston, Boston. Otherwise you’ll just have chain restaurants and bank ATMs.

The average local small business owner typically works a LOT more hours than the average wage earner, and pays every dime for their own social security (nearly double the effective rate), plus 100% of their health insurance and every other benefit which most employees receive tax free and take for granted. They most definitely do not look forward to a defined benefit pension plan to which those in the public sector feel so entitled. The "progressive" assumption that all small business owners are rich and subsidized by the tax code is the product of a completely false narrative.

Small business is an investment. If they are successful they are rich. Employees work for health care and Social Security tax. When employers don't pay enough to employees to live, then taxpayers pick up the tab for SNAP and Section 8. I am sick and tired of treating small business owners like charitable heroes.

entire territories filled with renters are pushed into housing crisis by the algorithms at RealPage and their "analytics", surely the corporate class/cartel can hemorrhage their savings for a few years as a patriotic duty, or for that matter, for forever if the economy doesn't get better. Why shouldn't they feel a lot of pain? It is not like they are stewards of anything--all they do is look out for their own interests. They are good at that. No reason for those in the housing crisis to look out for the interests of the elite.

You know this is not going to get better unless we change a lot of things, don't you? Don't you?

Coletta Zapata said she does not want to harm skyscraper owners, but she is more concerned about what happens to homeowners who find themselves priced out of the city. "Everyday Bostonians drive our economy as much as these major corporations do," she said.

Too late Councilwoman Zapata. Once this generation of Boston born and bred homeowners passes away corporations will own this entire city. Corporations are buying single family and multi-family triple decker homes now. I guess it's going to be the newest "Moneybro" monopoly.

How about temporarily reducing the salaries of the mayor and the city council?