House Speaker Ron Mariano speaks during a Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce forum at the Renaissance Boston Waterfront Hotel on Thursday, March 21, 2024. Photo by Alison Kuznitz | State House News Service

Addressing multiple crises engulfing Massachusetts on top of slowing revenue collections, House Speaker Ron Mariano on Thursday voiced an openness to considering a local-option real estate transfer tax to boost the affordable housing supply and indicated he would use water and sewer infrastructure to unlock a long-stalled development site.

Mariano, speaking to business leaders Thursday at a breakfast in the Seaport, said his branch’s housing bond bill would build upon Gov. Maura Healey’s $4.1 billion proposal by expanding the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority service area “to provide clean water to future housing developments.”

Bringing up the transfer tax, the Quincy Democrat said softening state tax collections “are a reminder of why it’s important to keep all options on the table when it comes to generating alternative forms of revenue.”

“Now, I understand that the idea of a transfer fee is a cause for concern for some of you, but if you believe that the issue of housing affordability is a genuine crisis, then we must explore all options that have the potential to make a real difference,” Mariano said during the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce forum. “I look forward to having continued conversations with members, and with the business community, on how we can bolster the development of more affordable housing, while ensuring that Massachusetts remains competitive.”

Mariano, speaking to reporters later Thursday morning, said he’s not sure whether he has the votes in the House to adopt a local-option real estate transfer tax.

Asked whether he supports the tax, Mariano said his stance depends on the structure, and expressed concerns around Healey’s proposal that would allow municipalities to impose a fee of 0.5 to 2 percent on the portion of a property sale above $1 million.

“You want it to be workable. You don’t want it to be an inhibitor to construction,” Mariano said at the Renaissance Boston Waterfront Hotel. “When I read the governor’s, I thought, my initial reaction was that this might be high.”

“I will talk to members to see where the support is. I don’t know if I have the votes,” Mariano said when asked about the fee.

Southfield Unlocked?

Mariano said the House is “considering a number of options” to help municipalities finance affordable housing development, staunch the exodus of young residents out of Massachusetts, and enable businesses to recruit talent here. The House is seeking input from stakeholders on “what’s the most efficient way to provide housing for employees to stay in Massachusetts.”

The House’s bond bill will exceed Healey’s pitch, Mariano told reporters.

“I’m going to go big,” said Mariano, who did not provide a specific figure.

The Quincy Democrat talked about housing development in his district, at the former naval air station in South Weymouth, that he’s been working on for nearly three decades. The main obstacle is a lack of water supply, Mariano said.

Expanding MWRA service to Weymouth could help create at least 6,000 homes there, he said.

New master developers New England Development and Brookfield Properties secured new zoning for the benighted site, most recently known as Southfield, from Weymouth, Rockland and Abington last fall. But poor water and sewer infrastructure on the site has hobbled development efforts in the past.

Mariano recalled his initial election to the House in the early 1990s during a previous MWRA expansion, and how constituents threw steep water bills into Quincy Bay as an act of protest. He said his constituents back then were paying for the creation of infrastructure including septic tanks, purification tanks, pipelines and sewer lines. The system now has more capacity than officials had anticipated, and Mariano said excess water is being wasted and dumped into the ground.

“We need to expand the ability to deliver infrastructure to these developments,” Mariano said, as he invoked similar obstacles in Brockton. “And I’m serious that we have people who want to build 6,000 homes in Weymouth and they just need a water source. And if we can use this bonding bill to get that done, you’ll see some impact on the South Shore.”

Mariano did not offer details on the scope of the MWRA service expansion, and any associated costs.

Long-Stalled 6K-Unit Development, Transfer Taxes Get Boost from Mariano

by State House News Service time to read: 3 min