On June 14, Acting Mayor Kim Janey announced the creation of a 2021 PILOT Task Force “to revisit and modernize the current voluntary Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) payment program for Boston’s charitable institutions,” according to a release from the City. “Its initial charge will be to improve and strengthen the Community Benefits component of the PILOT program.” T
he release continued, “The City of Boston has one of the nation’s leading PILOT programs, which seeks cash contributions from academic, medical and cultural institutions that own real estate otherwise exempt from property taxes. This program offers tax-exempt institutions an opportunity to voluntarily support basic City services and other important programs in acknowledgement of the unique relationship between the City and its major nonprofits. PILOT contributions go into the City’s general fund, the source for City expenditures, including education, snow removal, street repair, fire, and police. The PILOT program includes potential credits for Community Benefits, which allow institutions to offset a portion of their cash payment by demonstrating and documenting ways they support the City and its residents through their charitable missions.”
The City Council Committee on PILOT Agreements also held its first PILOT on Monday “regarding increasing oversight, transparency, and coordination of PILOT community benefit offsets,” according to the hearing notice. The chair of the committee is District 8 Councilor Kenzie Bok, who, along with Councilor Liz Breadon, also sponsored this hearing. “For me, one of the core reasons that we filed this hearing order was because we’ve really seen in COVID and under duress what it looks like when our institutions in our city come together in a coordinated way to really tackle a crisis,” Councilor Bok said at the hearing.
There were three different panels of speakers invited to the hearing, the first was comprised of members of the administration, the second included members of various organizations, and the third included members of institutions. Justin Sterritt, Boston’s Chief Financial Officer, said that the PILOT program was “created decades ago,” and “reformed about a decade ago” with an original task force. “This task force is not about reinventing the wheel,” Commissioner of Assessing Nick Ariniello said. He said it’s more about “seeing where the program has succeeded and keeping those elements,” as well as where improvements can be made.
“Institutions in the city have done an excellent job of growing together,” Ariniello said, adding that the “new task force is really about continuing that relationship” and strengthening it. Enid Eckstein of the PILOT Action Group, which, according to its website, is “a coalition of community, faith and labor groups who have come together to address concerns around the role of our wealthy nonprofit neighbors in the future of our city,” said that the PILOT Action Group is pleased to hear that a task force has been created. She also said that it is important that “there’s increasing oversight and accountability.” Additionally, Eckstein said that “we need to align community benefit spending with current needs of the city, and “ensure strategic investment of benefits.”
She continued, “we need a new social contract in our city. We cannot afford to be just a city of the wealthy.” She suggested that more investments be made in affordable housing and schools like Madison Park High School “This is a year where we need to think outside the box,” Eckstein said. Cortina Vann of the Massachusetts Affordable Housing Alliance (MAHA) said that while students are respected in the city, she thinks a “better job” can be done of not pushing families out of their homes in student-heavy neighborhoods, and working to close the racial and economic gap is high on the priority list. Carl Sciortino, Executive Vice President of External Relations for Fenway Health, said that he was attending the hearing “on behalf of the Boston CHNA-CHIP Collaborative,” which he explained is the “Community Health Needs Assessment and Community Health Improvement Plan.” Sciortino said that he believes this “gives some context to what I think is a really unique and positive example of community engagement that’s leading to priorities and decision-making by institutions that are members of the collaborative.”
He also provided the mission of the collaborative, which he said “is essentially to make sure that we can achieve sustainable, positive change in the health of Boston by collaborating with communities, sharing knowledge, aligning resources, and addressing root causes of inequity.” Sciortino also said that a community survey was completed, reaching more than 2400 residents, aiming to reach people who “usually are underserved and under heard through these kinds of engagement processes.” He said the full report of the CHNA can be found at bostonchna.org, and highlighted disparities in many different communities throughout the city.
Sciortino also talked about the Community Health Improvement Plan, which he called “a democratically engaged community engagement process” which was created after the CHNA. He said that findings from the CHNA were brought back to stakeholders and residents, and then four focus areas were developed: housing, financial security and mobility, behavioral health, and accessing services. “The overarching theme of the Community Health Improvement Plan is to achieve racial and ethnic health equity,” Sciortino said. Public comment was also taken at the end of the hearing. Richard Giordano, Director of Policy and Community Planning for the Fenway Community Development Corporation (CDC), said he was glad to see that a new task force is being created. He also said that “we do need to remind ourselves of the full history of how we got here.” He said that the PILOT program rides on the notion that institutions agree to “pay up to 25 percent of the assessed value and they can offset that with community benefits,” but he said that an assessment is “five years overdue” at this point. “Universities and hospitals have been either paying more or less of what has been asked of them on a value that is significantly under-representing their real estate,” he said, adding that the “offset in community benefits is also under-represented.
Other residents also made comments regarding the PILOT program, task force, and community benefits, especially when it relates to issues of equity. Mayor Janey said in a statement that “I am launching the 2021 PILOT Task Force as part of my commitment to lead an equitable recovery in the City of Boston. New voices and new frameworks create new opportunities to make our city stronger. Our response to the COVID-19 pandemic exemplifies the importance of City partnerships with community organizations and institutions to serve residents and ensure a recovery and renewal that includes all of our communities.
”The task force will be made up of “institutional partners, elected officials, community advocates, labor leaders, and residents,” according to the city. “As a collective, the City of Boston and the Task Force will be charged with revisiting the existing program, and developing ideas to address the shared needs of Boston residents, incorporate community voices, strengthen partnerships between the City and its institutions, and examine the Community Benefits credit. The Task Force will meet in the summer of 2021 with meetings through the fall and winter.”