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Community Preservation Act

Photo of the Trolley Square Apartments

The Community Preservation Act (CPA) was created by a state law (MGL Chapter 44B) to help cities and towns preserve the character of their community. In 2001, Cambridge residents voted to adopt the CPA which allowed a 3% surcharge on Property Tax bills to fund affordable housing, open space, and historic preservation projects.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts provides "matching" funds in addition to those raised locally by the surcharge. The percentage of the state "match" will vary from year to year, depending on the number of participating communities and fees paid at the Registry of Deeds. Each year, at least 10% of annual CPA revenues shall be spent or set aside for later spending on open space, historic preservation and community housing. The remaining percentage can be used towards any of the three funding categories.

Through 2017, $167.75 million dollars has been allocated for Cambridge CPA projects, including $134.2 million for affordable housing initiatives, $16.775 million for historical preservation projects and $16.775 million for open space projects. To date, the City has received $48 million in state matching funds, $99 million from local surcharges and $19 million from the CPA fund balance.

City Seeking Ideas for CPA Funding of Affordable Housing, Open Space, and Historic Preservation Projects

Submit Your Ideas through the Online CPA Citizen Project Request Form or contact Karen Preval at kpreval@cambridgema.gov or 617-349-4221.

Submission Deadline is July 27, 2017.


Tips and FAQs

What is the Community Preservation Act Committee?

The Committee consist of nine members and is Chaired by the Deputy City Manager Lisa C. Peterson. The committee is appointed by the City Manager. Five of the members shall be appointed as required by the Community Preservation Act. M.G.L. 44B; this includes, one member of the conservation commission, one member of the historical commission, one member of the planning board, one member of the board of park commissions and one member of the housing authority, along with four additional members.

The Community Preservation Act Committee shall study the needs, possibilities and resources of the City regarding community preservation. The Committee shall consult with existing municipal boards, including the Conservation Commission, the Historical Commission, the Planning Board, and the Housing Authority, in conducting such studies. As part of its study, the Committee shall hold one or more public informational hearings on the needs, possibilities and resources of the City regarding community preservation possibilities and resources.

How much is the Cambridge Surcharge and how is it calculated?

A 3% surcharge is levied against your property tax amount, not the value of the property. For example, a CPA surcharge of 3 percent on a real property tax bill of $1,000 would be $30, or 3 percent of $1,000, per year.

1. Owner-Occupied Residential Property

Prop Value City Residential Exemption CPA Residential Exemption Tax Rate CPA Surcharge Calculation
$400,000 $201,161 $100,000 $7.56/1000 $22.42 (Value - Res Exempt - CPA Res Exempt) x Tax Rate x 3%

2. Residential Property, Not Owner-Occupied

Prop Value City Residential Exemption CPA Residential Exemption Tax Rate CPA Surcharge Calculation
$400,000 N/A $100,000 $7.56/1000 $68.04 (Value - Res Exempt - CPA Res Exempt) x Tax Rate x 3%

3. Mixed-Use Property, Not Owner-Occupied

Prop Value City Residential Exemption CPA Residential Exemption Tax Rate CPA Surcharge Calculation
R:$300,000 N/A $100,000 $7.56/1000 $99.27 (Value - Res Exempt - CPA Res Exempt) x Tax Rate x 3%
R:$100,000 N/A N/A $17.97/1000 $53.91 Value x Comm. Tax Rate x 3%

4. Commercial Property

Prop Value City Residential Exemption CPA Residential Exemption Tax Rate CPA Surcharge Calculation
$400,000 N/A N/A $17.97/1000 $215.64 Value x Comm. Tax Rate x 3%

What types of projects are eligible for CPA Funding?

This chart defines the types of uses that meet CPA funding criteria under Affordable Housing, Historical Preservation and Open Space*.

* CPA funds can now be used to rehabilitate and restore land for recreational use.
* Section 5(b)2 "With respect to recreational use, the acquisition of artificial turf for athletic fields shall be prohibited.

  Affordable Housing Historic Preservation Open Space Open Space (Recreation)
Acquire Yes Yes Yes yes
Create Yes - Yes Yes
Preserve Yes Yes Yes Yes
Support Yes - - -
Rehabilitate and/or Restore Yes, if acquired or created with CPA funds Yes Yes Yes

Is there a glossary of key CPA related terms?

  • Acquire - to obtain by gift, purchase, devise, grant, rental, rental purchase, lease or otherwise. “Acquire” shall not include a taking by eminent domain, except as provided in this chapter.
  • Annual income - a family’s or person’s gross annual income less such reasonable allowances for dependents, other than a spouse, and for medical expenses as the housing authority or, in the event that there is no housing authority, the department of housing and community development, determines.
  • Capital improvement - reconstruction or alteration of real property that: (1) materially adds to the value of the real property, or appreciably prolongs the useful life of the real property; (2) becomes part of the real property or is permanently affixed to the real property so that removal would cause material damage to the property or article itself; and (3) is intended to become a permanent installation or is intended to remain there for an indefinite period of time.
  • Community housing - low and moderate income housing for individuals and families, including low or moderate income senior housing.
  • Community preservation - the acquisition, creation and preservation of open space, the acquisition, creation and preservation of historic resources and the creation and preservation of community housing.
  • Historic resources - a building, structure, vessel real property, document or artifact that is listed on the state register of historic places or has been determined by the local historic preservation commission to be significant in the history, archaeology, architecture or culture of a city or town.
  • Maintenance - incidental repairs which neither materially add to the value of the property nor appreciably prolong the property’s life, but keep the property in a condition of fitness, efficiency or readiness.
  • Open space - shall include, but not be limited to, land to protect existing and future well fields, aquifers and recharge areas, watershed land, agricultural land, grasslands, fields, forest land, fresh and salt water marshes and other wetlands, ocean, river, stream, lake and pond frontage, beaches, dunes and other coastal lands, lands to protect scenic vistas, land for wildlife or nature preserve and land for recreational use.
  • Preservation - protection of personal or real property from injury, harm or destruction. 
  • Real property - land, buildings, appurtenant structures and fixtures attached to buildings or land, including, where applicable, real property interests.
  • Real property interest - a present or future legal or equitable interest in or to real property, including easements and restrictions, and any beneficial interest therein, including the interest of a beneficiary in a trust which holds a legal or equitable interest in real property, but shall not include an interest which is limited to the following: an estate at will or at sufferance and any estate for years having a term of less than 30 years; the reversionary right, condition or right of entry for condition broken; the interest of a mortgagee or other secured party in a mortgage or security agreement.
  • Recreational use - active or passive recreational use including, but not limited to, the use of land for community gardens, trails, and noncommercial youth and adult sports, and the use of land as a park, playground or athletic field. “Recreational use” shall not include horse or dog racing or the use of land for a stadium, gymnasium or similar structure.
  • Rehabilitation - capital improvements, or the making of extraordinary repairs, to historic resources, open spaces, lands for recreational use and community housing for the purpose of making such historic resources, open spaces, lands for recreational use and community housing functional for their intended uses, including, but not limited to, improvements to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and other federal, state or local building or access codes; provided, that with respect to historic resources, “rehabilitation” shall comply with the Standards for Rehabilitation stated in the United States Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties codified in 36 C.F.R. Part 68; and provided further, that with respect to land for recreational use, “rehabilitation” shall include the replacement of playground equipment and other capital improvements to the land or the facilities thereon which make the land or the related facilities more functional for the intended recreational use.


CPA Funding for Affordable Housing

Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds for affordable housing are allocated to the Cambridge Affordable Housing Trust and are used by the Trust to preserve or create affordable housing through financing:

  • Preservation of affordable housing with expiring use restrictions
  • Acquisition of existing buildings
  • New construction and conversion of commercial, industrial and other non-residential buildings
  • First-Time Home Buyer's Financial Assistance programs
  • Revitalization of state-assisted Public Housing

View additional information about the City’s Affordable Housing Program

View a map of CPA-funded affordable housing projects

CPA Funding for Open Space

Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds can be used for preservation, rehabilitation and restoration of Open Space projects.

  • Open Space, shall include, but not be limited to, land to protect existing and future well fields, aquifers and recharge areas, watershed land, agricultural land, grasslands, fields, forest land, fresh and salt water marshes and other wetlands, ocean, river, stream, lake and pond frontage, beaches, dunes and other coastal lands, lands to protect scenic vistas, land for wildlife or nature preserve and land for recreational use.
  • CPA funds can now be used to rehabilitate and restore land for recreational use

View a map of CPA-funded open space projects

CPA Funding for Historical Preservation

Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds can be used for preservation, rehabilitation or restoration of eligible historic resources:

  • A building, structure, real property, document or artifact that is listed on the state register of historic places.
  • Determined by the local historic preservation commission to be significant in the history, archaeology, architecture or culture of a city or town.

View a map of CPA-funded historical preservation projects

To date, what is the total allocation of funds toward CPA related projects?


Local Funds State Match CPA Fund Balance Total Amount Allocated / Appropriated from All Sources
Affordable Housing $79,880,000 $39,020,000 $15,300,000 $134,200,000
Historic Preservation $9,985,000 $4,877,500 $1,912,500 $16,775,000
Open Space $9,985,000 $4,877,500 $1,912,500 $16,775,000
Total $99,850,000 $48,775,000 $19,125,000 $167,750,000


Last Updated: 6/14/2017 | Provide feedback on this page

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