With petitions, songs, costumes, and a brass band, students and other demonstrators from the PILOT Action Group staged a performance today in Boston City Hall, dramatizing their campaign to get wealthy nonprofits to contribute their fair share for city services.
Young people from Boston Public Schools, their parents, and members of other PILOT Action Group organizations sang modified lyrics to popular Christmas carols and delivered petitions with more than 1,000 signatures asking Mayor Marty Walsh and the City Council to press wealthy nonprofits to make their full payments due under the city’s Payments In Lieu Of Taxes (PILOT) program. The hallways rang with the music of local brass musicians and chants of “Jingle bells, jingle bells, PILOT’s on the way, Oh what joy it is to go to fully-funded schools-hey!”
“Every day I read from textbooks older than I am, and I pray that there’s soap in the bathrooms, even though there never is,” said Fiona McManus, an 11th grader in Boston Public Schools, underscoring the need for fully-funded schools.
“Universities like Northeastern are growing and expanding into the neighborhoods’ rental market with students outcompeting with lifelong residents,” said Cortina Vann, an organizer with the Massachusetts Affordable Housing Alliance (MAHA). “We have a racial homeownership gap that is unacceptable. PILOT is a way for major nonprofit institutions to give back and address the housing crisis that they as institutions are helping to feed.”
City Councilors Annissa Essaibi-George, Lydia Edwards, Ed Flynn, and Michelle Wu addressed the crowd. "Boston is home to fantastic educational institutions, world-renowned hospitals, and distinguished cultural centers that help make our city great and attractive. However, these institutions own a lot of property in Boston, property that has not been reassessed since 2007," said Councilor Annissa Essaibi-George. "It is important that these nonprofit institutions pay their fair share of taxes to offset the burden on Boston taxpayers."
Nonprofit organizations are exempt by state law from paying property taxes, even though they receive city services paid for by the taxes of others.
In 2010, a city taskforce that included nonprofit representatives was convened by then Mayor Menino to come up with a way for nonprofits to shoulder a share of Boston’s municipal expenses. The taskforce agreed that wealthy nonprofits—those owning over $15 million of Boston real estate—should pay one quarter of what they would owe if they were not exempt. Half of that quarter can be in kind services to the city and its residents, or community benefits. These payments are called Payments In Lieu Of Taxes or PILOT. Payments began in 2012.
Many large institutions have complied with the program but some of the wealthiest, especially some of the universities—Boston College, Harvard University, and Northeastern University—are falling farther and farther behind in their payments. Boston University increased its contribution from last year.
In 2018, only 64 percent of the requested PILOT cash payments were collected, down from 90 percent in 2012. Altogether, wealthy nonprofits are more than $77 million in arrears since 2012. Most of that—$46.7 million—is due from the “Big 4” universities.
The PILOT Action Group is a growing coalition of more than 20 community, faith, student and labor groups working to increase compliance with the city’s PILOT program by appealing directly to the wealthiest non-compliers and by asking the city government to hold nonprofits accountable for their missing payments.
The organizations have issued a comprehensive report on the PILOT program and its shortcomings, packed a City Council hearing in August, and recently wrote letters to Mayor Marty Walsh and major university presidents seeking to meet with them about PILOT underpayments.
“Today’s action is a light-hearted part of our campaign but this is a very serious matter for the residents of Boston,” said Enid Eckstein of the PILOT Action Group. “These institutions benefit tremendously from being located in an exciting city. They should pay their fair share of the costs. We will continue to expand our campaign until they do.”
The demonstration ended in the lobby of the Mayor’s office, where students and parents in full costume dramatized the Grinch story. Seven-year-old Amy Polanco, dressed as Cindy Lou, insisted, “All I want for Christmas is for you to pay your PILOT Payments!” In the end, the green-faced Grinch covered in university logos handed “Mayor Santa Claus Walsh” a check for the $77 million dollar arrears, and the band burst into song.
For more on the PILOT Action Group, visit https://pilotaction.weebly.com.
By the PILOT Action Group Organizing Members