by Jim Eisenberg
On Wednesday, November 17th, the Massachusetts Legislature held its last formal session for 2021. Formal sessions are when larger, sometimes controversial matters are taken up, debate occurs and roll call votes are cast and recorded. From November 18th until January, only “informal” sessions, where generally non-controversial matters are addressed and done through voice-votes occur. Formal sessions will resume in January and continue through to July 31st, after which it’s back to informal sessions for the remainder of the year.
Left unfinished as of early December is the $3.82 billion “ARPA” bill, which may be signed by Governor Charlie Baker before 2022. This would allocate money from a combination of federal ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) and state surplus tax funds to stimulate the economy, support workers and businesses, and invest in infrastructure projects, public health, and other priorities including rental housing production and preservation.
The “preservation” component was added thanks to the efforts of SPOA which successfully pushed for an amendment in the House. The Senate bill follows the House’s lead and also includes the “preservation” language. Assuming it is included in the final bill, SPOA will be working with Administration officials on its implementation. It’s SPOA’s hope that these funds can be used to help small property owners who have been impacted by the pandemic.
This bill is the first of at least two legislative vehicles needed to spend the federal dollars because in June, the Legislature rejected Governor Baker’s plan to immediately spend $2.8 billion of the federal COVID-19 relief money and instead voted to sweep $4.89 billion into a COVID-19 relief “holding” fund. A second, transportation-related bill has been suggested for action in 2022. Under federal law, the funds must be committed by the end of 2024 and spent by the end of 2026. Negotiations continue between the House and Senate on the present bill and a compromise could, if everyone were to agree to doing so, be passed either in informal session or early in 2022 if an agreement is reached.
As for the other legislation and policy matters SPOA is tracking and working on, there will be a six-month sprint to July 31st to support those bills that would make a positive impact—such as rental owner-tax credits and requiring rental escrow accounts during eviction proceedings—and oppose the bills that have the potential to cause the most harm to small rental housing providers such as right-of first refusal, eviction record sealing, tenant right to counsel, rent control, and eviction moratoria.
One date to keep in mind is February 2, 2022. This is the so-called “Joint Rule 10 Day;” the day by which committees need to decide whether to report bills “ought-to-pass,” “ought-not-to-pass,” place them in a legislative “study” or ask for more time. It’s on February 2nd that the fate of most of the SPOA bills will be decided. That said, any time of the year can yield surprises, especially during budget debate where some of the most dangerous, anti-small rental property owner policy has surfaced—so remaining vigilant is key to a successful 2021-2022 legislative session.