This Week in Boston Real Estate: AirBnb taxes, hip suburbs and more

by Michael M. Mazek

As Massachusetts legislators approached the end of their official session July 31, they faced a deadline for approving a series of bills related to budget moves and regulatory changes. Among the most contentious was a proposal to enact new, higher taxes on short-term home rental services including Airbnb. In the final version approved by the state House and Senate, Massachusetts would extend its 5.7 percent hotel tax to short-term rentals, as well as give local officials the option to levy their own tax of up to 6 percent, or as high as 9 percent for property owners renting out two or more units in the same community. The bill also would make the state the first in the nation to establish a registry of short-term rentals.

The bill was sent to Governor Charlie Baker’s desk to sign July 30, but The Boston Globe reported that it ran into some last-minute complications and may not be enacted after all. Baker proposed changes including a provision to exempt homeowners from the tax who rent out their property for 14 nights or fewer per year. The state legislature would need to unanimously approve those changes or else reject them and return the previous bill to the governor’s desk, at which point he would have 10 days to sign it or potentially veto it. As of August 3, the bill’s fate is still unclear.

In other Boston real estate news:

  • Fresh off the long-awaited groundbreaking on the Green Line extension, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation and the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) are laying the groundwork for even more infrastructure over the next 25 years. The agencies released their plans in a proposal called Focus 40 and hope to have a final draft ready for public comment by fall 2018. Among the proposals are what the MBTA calls “big ideas,” including a plan to extend the Blue Line beyond downtown and connect it with the Red Line. At the same time, the MBTA could create a “downtown superstation” by combining the current Downtown Crossing and Park Street stops into a single station connecting the Orange, Red, Green and Blue Lines. The early proposal also sees room to extend the Blue Line in the other direction out to Lynn. In this early phase, the MBTA is not yet providing full estimates of the funds and studies that would be required to make these plans a reality.
  • In other state legislature news, the Boston Business Journal reported that Gov. Baker was unable to secure provisions for large tax breaks that could provide the state leverage in winning major development bids including Amazon’s second headquarters. While Boston is still considered a top contender for the e-commerce giant’s HQ2, Gov. Baker’s administration was hoping to convince state lawmakers to allow for new tax breaks for certain large development projects that would bring jobs and revenue into the state. Current laws enforce limits on the total value of tax incentives that the state may offer businesses for bringing major development projects to Massachusetts, which the Boston Business Journal said would make it less enticing to Amazon, especially in light of multi-billion-dollar tax breaks being offered by states like Maryland and New Jersey.
  • The Boston Globe reports that the latest trend among Boston area developers includes finding ways to make the suburbs attractive to young professionals. The Globe examined one recent effort in Burlington, where National Development has worked since 2013 to transform the New England Executive Park into what it now calls “the District,” replete with new dining options, bars, yoga studios and more. It’s part of a series of efforts happening along Boston’s inner beltway to attract big tech industry employers, and the affluent millennials they employ, away from the city core where much of the action is. From a financial standpoint, suburban developers make a compelling case to businesses and their employees — the Globe noted that office space rents in outer communities like Waltham, Needham and Newton average $37 per square foot, while downtown prices are almost double that amount. Office park developers are also working with residential builders to create homes within walking distance from major job hubs, another big incentive for young professionals looking to save on housing and commuting costs. Still, more companies are continuing to relocate their corporate offices from the suburbs into the city.

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