Letter: Residential tax exemption would work in Williamstown
To the editor:
The Williamstown Planning Board's proposal to be able to divide existing homes into two units is unlikely to create any truly affordable housing. Will splitting up these properties result in increased property assessments? Adding a third unit without requiring a permitting process is insane.
It seems like that a large proportion of these divided homes could be for new Williams faculty housing or off-campus student housing. An article in the Jan. 23 edition of the Williams Record decried the scarcity of off-campus housing for students, especially athletes. College-owned houses that are divided to make off-campus apartments/housing for students will be removed from the town's tax rolls. This could easily reduce town tax rolls by $60,000-$100,000 annually, resulting in property tax increases for others.
One consideration in the topic of affordable housing is keeping property taxes low and stable. After the Cole Ave. St. Raphael's affordable housing rentals were created, these "affordable" rents were regularly increased after property taxes increased.
Property taxes are a regressive form of taxation, not taking into consideration the owner's income. Massachusetts does have the "circuit breaker" provision which enables seniors with moderate income but higher property taxes or rent to get a modest refund/rebate from state coffers.
However, more can be done. Mass General Law Chapter 59 Section 5C does this through the Residential Tax Exemption, and it allows a town to exempt/reduce as much as 35 percent of the average assessed value of all Class One residential parcels within the town for those properties serving as the owner's principal residence. Let's say, for example, that in Williamstown, the average property assessment is $319, 407. The eligible properties would have their assessments reduced by the amount of the percentage chosen by the town of the average assessed value, e.g. the $319,407. Then, using the new assessed values the tax rate is recalculated.
Properties below the average assessment would have their property taxes reduced; those above the average assessment rate would have their property taxes increased. The amount would depend on the rate the town accepts, with the maximum 35 percentage having the biggest effect. The proportionality of the decreases or increases is also greater the farther a property's assessed value is from the average assessed value. Property taxes, thus, become more progressive and less regressive.
The Residential Tax Exemption provision is a useful tool for keeping housing costs affordable and could encourage affordable housing creation. This provision provides food for thought. Are a community's leaders and more affluent citizens willing to walk the talk?
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