Vacancy Fee for High-End Property Owners with Empty Storefronts, Apartments Proposed by O’Malley

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Tired of looking at those large empty storefronts or vacant luxury residential units in big buildings? So is District 6 City Councilor Matt O'Malley, who has proposed a vacancy fee for landlords causing "high-end blight."

Richard Heath

District 6 City Councilor Matt O'Malley

"When properties remain vacant year after year, they create holes in the fabric of our communities," said O'Malley to Jamaica Plain News. "As we encourage investment in our neighborhoods, we must also make sure that investment benefits our neighbors. When storefronts and high rises are filled with people, they contribute to the community as well as to the property owner's bottom line. As more people and businesses move to our city, we should make sure we're using every tool in our policy toolbox to keep the city vibrant."

O'Malley said it's too early to put a monetary value on a vacancy fee, but he imagines it would be determined by the square footage and the value of property, as well as other variables.

He said that he envisions that all commercial properties would be subject to the fee, no matter the size. He added that the vacancy fee would affect rental properties more than high-end condominiums, which would help provide more rental housing for Boston.

O’Malley called for a hearing to address the issues of vacant properties throughout all of Boston at Wednesday's Boston City Council meeting, and the matter was referred to the City, Neighborhood Services and Veterans Affairs Committee.

The order would also include a data collection element to learn more about vacancies throughout the city. O'Malley believes a vacancy fee could fund affordability initiatives and also reduce property taxes for occupied properties.

O'Malley said the response to the idea has been overwhelming, although some people from the business community found the idea to punitive.

But the councilor disagreed, saying that he feels a vacancy fee would lead to further activating neighborhoods and business districts.

"This is to end high-end blight in buildings being purposefully kept vacant because the landlord or owner can get more money in the long-term... This is to address things being vacant for one, 10 or 20 years. Every neighborhood can boast at least one single well-known property (that's been vacant for a longtime)," said O'Malley

This article was updated on April 4 after Jamaica Plain News spoke further with O'Malley.