In Massachusetts, cities have limited powers under state law. A Home Rule Petition is a request from a city for a new type of power from the state legislature—for example, the power to enact a new tax or regulation, or an exemption from an aspect of state law. If a proposed Home Rule Petition is passed locally, the city government sends the bill to its State Representatives and State Senators, who seek to pass it in the legislature as a state law that would only affect the one municipality.
The City of Somerville and the Board of Aldermen considered and introduced several Home Rule Petitions in the legislative session that ended July 31st. Among those were a petition to allow Somerville to implement a fee on real estate sales, and two Home Rule petitions that would enable the complete redevelopment of the Clarendon public housing development in West Somerville.
Real Estate Transfer Fee Home Rule Petition
The Real Estate Transfer Fee Home Rule Petition would add new resources for Somerville’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund by levying a fee of 1%-2% on real estate transactions in the city. Homeowners who have occupied their homes for two or more years would be exempt, as would owner-occupant purchasers. After passing the Somerville Board of Aldermen unanimously in May, the Transfer Fee Home Rule Petition was sent to the State Legislature, where it did not pass before the end on the Formal Legislative Session, which ended on July 31st. While it is possible that the Transfer Fee could be passed during the Informal legislative session now underway, the more likely path forward would be for Somerville’s state delegation to re-file the Home Rule Petition in the Statehouse at the beginning of the next Formal Session, which starts in January 2019. The City does not have to pass the Transfer Fee Home Rule Petition again locally for it to be reintroduced in the legislature next year.
Clarendon Hill and Powder House Home Rule Petitions
The Legislature did pass two home rule petitions on the last day of the Formal Session that enable the redevelopment of the Clarendon public housing property and the improvement of the Powder House Boulevard-Alewife Brook Parkway intersection: H4580 provides authorization for the Somerville Housing Authority to engage with a private development partner to redevelop the Clarendon property; and H4856 allows for a land swap between Somerville Housing Authority and the State Department of Conservation and Recreation that will allow for the replacement of the rotary at Powder House and Alewife with a fully signaled T-intersection. (see the article on Clarendon for more detail)
These measures are examples where the City of Somerville does not have the authority to do something on its own, and according to the Massachusetts Constitution, must request such authority from the State Legislature and Governor.