Op-eds:

April 6, 2018
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House passes legislation regulating, taxing short-term rentals

By Local State Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez

As I meet with neighbors and community members, one concern rises to the top: affordable housing. As our state’s population and economy grows, housing costs continue to rise.

In many ways, we are victims of our own success. Our tireless efforts to improve the community, from cleaning Jamaica Pond to advocating for better housing in Mission Hill, have caused people to flock to our neighborhoods. And we welcome all people who want to join us as they set down roots, pursue degrees, or raise a family.

Technology, however, is rapidly evolving, disrupting communities and contributing to our housing crunch.

Short-term rentals, like AirBnB, started as an innovative platform and phone app where people could earn some income on the side by renting out spare bedrooms or houses while away. As this technology has developed, investors have seized the platform, and others like it, to turn units and entire buildings into de facto hotels.

This has created issues in cities and towns across Massachusetts. While many units are operated like hotels, they aren’t taxed or regulated like hotels, creating a legal grey area. They aren’t inspected for safety, and municipalities are unsure how many exist and how to best regulate them.

That’s why we in the House passed legislation to regulate and tax short-term rentals like AirBnB.

The House’s legislation creates a common-sense, tiered structure that encourages individuals to earn extra income by renting out spare rooms, while regulating, taxing, and ensuring the safety of units. It requires that all units be listed on an online, accessible registry with the state’s Department of Revenue. The registry will include a list of addresses, but for the sake of privacy, will not list names.

Our legislation categorizes short-term rental hosts into three categories:

–Residential Host: rents 2 or fewer residential units, taxed at 4 percent;

–Investor Host: rents between 3 and 5 residential units, taxed at 5.7 percent;

–Professionally Managed Host: rents 6 or more residential units, taxed at 8 percent;

These categories recognize the difference between someone who rents out a spare bedroom and corporations that rent entire buildings (it requires any host with 6 or more units to employ a property manager and to maintain $1 million in liability insurance).

Our legislation recognizes that there are regional differences. For example, Boston’s approach to short-term rentals will vary from towns on Cape Cod or in Western Massachusetts. Other municipalities, like Cambridge, have already debated and implemented their own short-term rental ordinances. Under our legislation, individual municipalities have the ability to create their own regulatory structures, as well as the option to levy a local tax (up to 5 percent for Residential Hosts, up to 6 percent for Investor Hosts, and up to 10 percent for Professionally Managed Hosts).

If a municipality accepts the local excise tax, they will have to conduct a safety inspection on the residential unit within 60 days of the residential unit being listed on DOR’s registry. Twenty-five percent of the funds received from the local excise tax applied to a Professionally Managed Host will be distributed to low- and moderate-income housing programs and 25 percent will be distributed to infrastructure. The state funds will go to vital programs like youth violence prevention programs, MassHealth, and public education.

This legislation prohibits hosts and hosting platforms from discriminating on the basis of race, sex, gender identity, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, religion, disability, or nationality. It does not affect existing leases, rental agreements, or other types of landlord/tenant relationships. After passing in the House, the bill now goes to the Senate.

Overall, this legislation will tax and regulate short-term rentals like Airbnb. It empowers cities and towns to regulate short-term rentals and ensures safety for tenants and neighbors, based on what’s best for their community.

As someone who grew up in Mission Hill public housing, I understand how important safe and healthy homes and community are. In January, the House passed a $1.7 billion bond bill to preserve and construct affordable housing. Our short-term rental legislation is another tool in our toolbox to address the housing crisis we face in Boston, Brookline, and across the Commonwealth.

Celebrating One Boston Day through kindness and service

By Mayor Martin Walsh

For over 120 years, the Boston Marathon has represented our city at its finest. Every year, thousands of runners lace up their shoes and begin the long trek towards Boylston Street. People come from all across the city to cheer on friends, family, and complete strangers. On Marathon Monday, we come together in a special way as one city, to support and celebrate one another.

Five years ago, the Boston Marathon took on a new meaning. That year, President Obama came to Boston to help our city heal. He said, “Even when our heart aches, we summon the strength that maybe we didn’t even know we had…We carry on. We finish the race.” Vice President Joe Biden reminded us the following year: “We own the finish line.” I saw our city come together to care for the wounded, mourn those we lost, and honor the heroes.

Since then, the Boston Marathon has become a movement. It has come to represent the strength of the human spirit in a new and profound way. It’s a testament to the resilience of our city. Two years later, we marked the beginning of a new Boston tradition: One Boston Day.

Each year, the day serves as an opportunity to celebrate the resiliency, generosity, and strength demonstrated by the people of Boston and those around the world in response to the tragedy of April 15, 2013. In years past, we have celebrated this day by giving back to our communities and showing the kindness that was on display five years ago. As we prepare for the fourth annual One Boston Day in a just a few short weeks, I’m proud that this day is now a permanent fixture in our city and that we will continue this tradition in the years going forward.

Sunday, April 15, 2018, will mark the fourth annual One Boston Day, and this year I encourage all Bostonians to participate. I encourage you to visit onebostonday.org to see the “acts of kindness” individuals and organizations are planning. There are many ways – big and small – for you to get involved. Help clean up a local park. Help an elderly neighbor with housework or mentor a struggling student. Participate in one of the many donation drives and walks planned. Give blood with Mass General Hospital or Thank a Veteran with Boston’s Veteran Services Office. However you choose to get involved, it will be a meaningful and memorable experience for everyone involved.

Last year, we reached over 43,000 “acts of kindness” across the city. Bostonians shared their projects on social media and the hashtag #OneBostonDay was trending nationwide. As we get closer to this year’s day, we’ll be highlighting efforts underway for this year. I hope that the stories of other’s actions inspire you to get involved this year – and for all future One Boston Days to come.

The Boston Marathon will always be a tradition that represents who we are as a city. And now One Boston Day is another tradition that shows Boston at its best. Five years after the tragedy that impacted us all, Boston continues to show the world that we are strong, and our traditions will endure, no matter what. April 15 will forever be a day that represents the resilience of the human spirit, and I hope everyone can mark this day in a way that showcases the very best of our city and its people.

Visit onebostonday.org to learn more, get involved, and submit your own acts of kindness.

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Criminal justice reform bill a turning point for Massachusetts

By Local State Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz

Our state is turning a moral corner.

For decades, we have lived with a costly, ineffective, and systemically racist criminal justice system. It’s stubbornly continued the tactics of the “War on Drugs.” It’s drained resources from our budgets every year, that could otherwise go to increasing education and opportunity. It’s trapped whole communities in destructive cycles of incarceration and crime.

But the last year saw advocates, community leaders, and their allies in the legislature make unprecedented headway for comprehensive criminal justice reform. Together, we pressed legislative leaders and the governor to stop waiting to fulfill their promises and pass real reform legislation. After an incomplete Council of State Governments’ report–that pointed to needed, but “back end” only reforms–we fought hard to keep sentencing reform on Beacon Hill’s agenda and ensure that legislation encompassed the whole criminal justice system, from start to finish.

Hundreds of people turned out to push for comprehensive reform, with phone calls, letters, emails, rallies, speeches, hearings, and one-on-one meetings. Poll after poll showed that we were making headway with the public, as a wide majority of Bay Staters supported key reforms.

We got two different bills through the Senate and House last year, but it still wasn’t clear whether the final legislation would include deeply necessary, crucial reforms – until now.

Recently, I was proud to stand with my colleagues and advocates as the legislature’s conference committee released the finalized version of the criminal justice package. The package includes a comprehensive array of reforms that will fix issues all throughout the criminal justice pipeline.

This bill is a massive and joyful turning point for our state.

It includes key reforms to institute implicit bias and de-escalation training for local law enforcement, reduce the school-to-prison pipeline, fix our broken bail system, increase diversion to drug treatment, raise the felony threshold to make sure punishment is proportional to the crime, put important limits and data collection around the use of solitary confinement, significantly reform the CORI system to better support re-entry, reduce fines and fees on ex-offenders that tend to criminalize poverty and pull people back into incarceration, and repeal some of the ineffective and racist “mandatory minimums” for nonviolent drug offenses.

These reforms finally start to honor the needs of communities that experience the most crime and who are too often ignored. As Massachusetts increased the proportion of our people that we lock up four fold over the past few decades, it’s these communities that have born the damage: getting pulled into generational cycles of crime and poverty. This bill now includes serious evidence-based reforms that will make our criminal justice system—from start to finish—more effective. And they put our state on a path to right a moral wrong, and truly live up to the values we hold dear.

There is, of course, more to do to fully reform the criminal justice system, and we will keep fighting to build on this progress. But this is a moment to celebrate our substantive victory for justice.

The people of the Commonwealth owe a debt of gratitude to Chairman Brownsberger and Chairwoman Cronin, who co-chaired the committee that worked on this bill – and especially to the thousands of advocates who’ve worked hard for these reforms.

It has been my distinct honor to work with all of you to fight for true justice in our Commonwealth. I’m inspired to see the outstanding victories we can win together.