Funds raised under CPA have often been used to leverage borrowing to acquire open space, promote historic preservation, or create affordable housing. For example, a community that raises $100,000 in Community Preservation Act funds annually might be able to leverage $2,000,000 in borrowing.
The Rappaport Institute study, which was written by Robin Sherman and David Luberoff, found that the Community Preservation Act is working to redistribute funds across geographic and socioeconomic lines. Funds are going from poorer communities, which generally have not approved use of CPA, to wealthier communities, which have. Funds are also going into Cape Cod and Middlesex County from the rest of the state. The study also questioned whether funds have been used to any significant degree to create affordable housing. They cite what they say is a relative lack of transparency is tracking the use of funds under CPA.
The study makes policy recommendations, including allowing communities to adopt CPA (and receive matching funds) without imposing a property tax surcharge, restricting disbursement from the CPA Trust Fund to the county in which funds were collected, capping the amount of matching funds that any single community could receive, requiring a percentage of CPA funds to be used for affordable housing, and requiring communities that have approved CPA to report revenues and expenditures in a more consistent fashion.
Some of the recommendations are reasonable. Clearer reporting, particularly of expenditures, would benefit all stakeholders – the state, local governments, and local citizens. Doing more to encourage the creation of affordable housing makes sense, though this observer would be reluctant to support a “one size fits all” percentage.
Other recommendations, such as allowing communities to receive matching funds without imposing a property tax surcharge, go against the major public policy purpose of CPA, which is to encourage local action on open space, historic preservation, and affordable housing. Restricting matching funds to the county in which they are collected will do nothing to encourage greater use of CPA – and would only deny funds to those communities that have made a commitment to it.
What needs to happen across the state is for more local leaders to study and promote CPA. Only a few communities in my part of the state – western Worcester County – have even considered CPA. (Sturbridge seems to be the only community in the area that has approved CPA.) As my part of the state continues to grow, communities in the area will need to look hard at CPA – and give consideration to approving it. Growth is coming and CPA appears to be a useful tool in managing it. It would be regrettable if it were changed significantly before communities, such as my own West Brookfield, were able to seriously consider it.