A proposal to tax the purchase of real estate in excess of $1 million in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, is being considered as a way to fund the town’s affordable housing program. Great Barrington Selectboard Vice Chair Leigh Davis made a pitch to the Stockbridge Select Board on September 14, suggesting the implementation of a transfer fee on high-value real estate transactions.
Davis highlighted the pressing need for affordable housing in the region, emphasizing that it is not just a local issue but a regional and national concern. She serves as chair of Great Barrington’s housing subcommittee, which spent eight months considering the proposal before presenting it to the Stockbridge Select Board.
In order to proceed with the transfer fee, the Great Barrington Selectboard must first approve a Home Rule Petition to allow the question to be put to voters at the October 23 town meeting. If approved, the proposed Special Act would enable the town to impose a property transfer fee of up to 2 percent on certain real estate transactions. Each town can determine its own fee limits within that range.
Under Davis’s proposal, a 1 percent transfer fee would be imposed on properties sold for at least $1 million, with the buyer and seller splitting the fee equally. In Great Barrington, this would have generated over $200,000 in 2022 from 14 properties sold for over $1 million. The revenue from the transfer fee would be deposited into the town’s Affordable Housing Trust and could be used to purchase property and maintain affordable rental or resale rates.
The implementation process involves several steps. If the tax is approved by town residents, it would then require approval from the State Legislature before it can be enforced. Davis noted that 18 Massachusetts municipalities currently have Home Rule Petitions pending in the State Legislature, highlighting the widespread housing challenges faced by towns and cities across the state.
Davis emphasized that the proposed transfer tax would provide a reliable revenue stream to the town’s affordable housing trust fund, allowing for strategic planning and annual replenishment. While Davis and some board members pushed for a vote on the Home Rule Petition as a placeholder to advance the measure to the Legislature, the Stockbridge Select Board declined to take action without a formal petition draft.
In addition to the transfer fee proposal, the Stockbridge Select Board addressed various other matters during the meeting. These included approving the Municipal Electric Aggregation Plan for submittal to the Department of Public Utilities, granting alcohol licenses for Berkshire Botanical Garden on specific dates, appointing members to the Cemetery Commission, announcing open positions in the Council on Aging, approving an intermunicipal agreement for sharing inspection and zoning enforcement services, and receiving updates on town projects and repairs.
The issue of affordable housing continues to be a pressing concern in many communities, and innovative solutions, such as transfer fees on high-value real estate transactions, are being explored to generate funds for affordable housing programs. The discussion in Stockbridge is part of a broader conversation taking place across the country to address the ongoing housing crisis and support those in need of affordable housing options.