SCC Commentary: Supporting a Somerville That is For Everyone

On May 30, 2013, in Latest News, by The Somerville Times

(The opinions and views expressed in the commentaries of The Somerville News belong solely to the authors of those commentaries and do not reflect the views or opinions of The Somerville News, its staff or publishers.)

The city of Somerville has come a long way from its days as a streetcar suburb, and even farther from the plaguing late century “Slumerville” reputation. In this 21st century, the city has become a beacon of social diversity, and the demand to live here is high. Where major infrastructure improvements like the Green Line Extension and Assembly Square Redevelopment promise to bring new opportunities to the people of Somerville, they also threaten to make living here significantly more expensive. Just since 2000, properties values have surged by 75% or more in parts of East and West Somerville, and in Union Square- where extension of Green Line is slated to open in 2017– upwards of 162%.  In a community where diversity and affordability are consistently identified through public process as core values, it is critical that we take steps today to ensure that Somerville continue to be a place where everyone is welcome tomorrow. 

The Somerville Community Corporation shares the vision set forth by the City and hundreds of residents through Mayor Curtatone’s SomerVision process.  That is, the vision to make Somerville an even more exceptional place to live, work, play and raise a family.  As a 40 year old community-based organization dedicated to maintaining diversity and preserving affordability in Somerville, we look forward to working with and being guided by Somerville residents to accomplish the goals set forth by this Comprehensive Plan, such as creating 6,000 new units of housing, 1,200 of them permanently affordable, by 2030. With over 40% of Somerville residents currently considered low or very low income, it is our priority to keep housing within reach so that everyone in Somerville can benefit from the investments in our city.

 

One of SCC’s most recent efforts to preserve diversity and opportunity for everyone in Somerville is our proposed redevelopment of the vacant Boys & Girls Club building at 181 Washington Street in Union Square. Working together with our partners at Cathartes Private Investments who are proposing to redevelop the adjacent Cota Funeral Home site, we plan to create a mixed-income, mixed-use site, with community amenities such as public greenspace and ground floor retail. The SCC owned site will offer 40 one to three bedroom apartments for families making low and moderate incomes, while the Cathartes site will offer an additional 45 apartments including 40 at market rate and 5 below market rate rents (as required by Somerville’s inclusionary zoning). We have a collaborative plan to create a thriving neighborhood at the gateway of Union Square that is truly a microcosm of our diverse Somerville community. 

 

While the Cathartes project for the Cota Funeral Home redevelopment will be separately funded and approved, our innovative private/non-profit partnership promises a seamless design and scale between the two properties and an opportunity for Somerville residents of all incomes to take part in this community.  By working together, and with the neighborhood, we have a unique opportunity to achieve much more than what a single developer could do, resulting in a vibrant location that reflects the values of the community and a place that is truly everyone’s Somerville.

 

On Thursday, June 6th the Somerville Planning Board will have the opportunity to approve SCC’s proposal for redevelopment of 181 Washington Street at a public hearing at 6pm, City Hall. We hope to convey a clear vision for this project that is driven by many months of SCC-hosted public meetings and design workshops and rooted in community values. We expect that this project will:

  • Meet Somerville’s consumer demand for housing near transit that provides easy access to the Boston metro area and Union Square’s commercial district.
  • Add value and reinforce Union Square’s existing diversity and character by combining market-rate and below market-rate housing on a single site to serve Somerville’s diverse household incomes.
  • Create a beautiful and welcoming gateway to Union Square from the East.
  • Combine the strengths of highly-qualified for-profit and non-profit developers in an innovative partnership that no one developer could match on their own.
  • Improve the Union Square neighborhood overall by adding an attractive, vital new development to the Washington Street corridor.

 

It is also worth noting that we are pursuing LEED Gold certification for green design of this project and as well as the possibility of a green roof. Evidence of our award winning real estate development can be seen throughout Somerville in the 200+ homes we have created or preserved for working families and individuals in locations like Temple Street, Linden Street and Saint PolyCarp Village.  We look forward to continuing to work with the community to shape our plans every step of the way, and to support a thriving Somerville that is for everyone.

 

Danny LeBlanc, SCC CEO

Ezra Haber Glenn, SCC Board President

 

For more information, see www.everyonessomerville.org

 

15 Responses to “SCC Commentary: Supporting a Somerville That is For Everyone”

  1. mememe says:

    “The Somerville Community Corporation shares the vision set forth by the City and hundreds of residents through Mayor Curtatone’s SomerVision process.”

    SCC – Somerville property tax funding
    the City – Somerville property tax funding
    SomerVision – Somerville property tax funding

    Just budgeting to support each other in circles, allowing them to each have admins and burracrats on their payroll. The quoted should be rewritten as

    “Your Property taxes shares the vision set forth by your property taxes and hundreds of residents through Mayor Curtatone’s property tax spending.”

  2. Matt C says:

    40 units of low income housing added to union sq. and Somervilles existing stock of low income housing which at present exceeds our neighboring towns is neither good for Somerville or union sq. If you were to look at the actual cost of adding a 40-unit low income tenement building to the city inclusive of police, fire and schools you will see a huge burden being shouldered by the city.

    Beyond the negative economic impact to the city the is a detriment to businesses. SCC is taking up what can be some of the most valuable customers in the city for retailers and replacing them with people who can’t afford market rate housing in the first place.

    The impact on those who live in union sq. and especially those who are the immediate neighbors of the housing project being built by the SCC will be detrimental in ways from the style of the building to parking and the NIMBY effect (no one is excited about the prospect of a halfway house, methedone clinic or low-income tenement going up next door.)

    Somerville should encourage smart growth across the city, especially in its economic/business districts in the context of inclusionary zoning and not promote projects like the one proposed by the SCC

  3. Jim says:

    If you are very poor and qualify for the SCC’s housing, then you can live in Somerville. If you are very wealthy and can afford the market rate units, then you can live in Somerville (until it bores you and you move to the burbs when you have kids). If you are a middle income family that rents, you are going to get tossed out of this town if you haven’t been already.

    The density associated with this development is inappropriate for the neighborhood, not nearly enough parking, or respect for the Union Sq. community. The SCC does whatever they want, builds based on Federal Funding formulas, and then calls you a racist if you voice principled opposition to their design.

    Lets hope the planning board does their job and requests a change to the design to reduce the density.

  4. MarketMan says:

    Here’s the problem with this line of thinking. “Affording housing” does NOT work. It does NOT provide “an opportunity for Somerville residents of all incomes to take part in this community”. Why you say?

    What if my income is too low to afford market rate homes and too high to qualify for “affordable housing”?? Then I cannot afford to live in Somerville.

    That’s the problem. Affordable housing creates an income divide in the city, with a huge gap in the middle. And the more affordable housing that’s added, the bigger the gap becomes… because the market rate of the remaining homes goes up.

  5. Rob says:

    People often complain that Somerville is too expensive and that the city is being taken over by higher-income folks. What is to be done about it? When government-subsidized affordable housing developments are proposed, people complain that they want market-rate housing. When developers propose market-rate housing, people complain about high prices and yuppies. When apartments are proposed, people complain about renters, density and traffic. Lacking any concerted effort to increase housing supply or create more government-subsidized affordable housing, I agree that only higher-income people will be able to afford to live here. Are there other viable alternatives that I’m not thinking of? Ideas welcome.

  6. Matt C says:

    There needs to be accommodation for affordable housing, that said we need to be very smart about where it is and how it is handed out. We should not build new housing projects like SCC in Union sq, rather include “affordable” opportunities in ongoing construction like the former whites laundry facility.. It should be everywhere, not contained in a building or set of buildings that will do nothing but breed entrenched poverty.

  7. Julia Prange Wallerce says:

    I just want to clarify that this is actually a joint project between SCC- a nonprofit developer and community based organization- and Cathartes Private Investments, a private developer. If you read the commentary piece, you will see that in fact this is project will provide housing opportunities for all ranges of incomes- market rate, moderate income, and low income. The SCC owned site will have 40 apartments for people making moderate to low incomes while the Cathartes site next door will have an additional 45 units- 40 that will be market rate, and 5 at below market rate, which is required by zoning. While the sites are separate, they will be developed seamlessly, as the developers (SCC and Cathartes) are working together. This is a joint project that actually reflects the demographic makeup and market demands of Somerville.

  8. MarketMan says:

    Julia Prange Wallerce: Those words sound like great marketing, but such a large housing structure is not what most people in Somerville want. Whether pro or against affordable housing, most people will agree that what is desired is housing that more closely resembles the existing homes in the area. Including market rate housing will be easy in such a structure, because there will be little desire to live there if you have other options.

    Rob: I agree that it is a hard problem, and like they say… you can’t please all people all of the time. But in my opinion there are still many areas of Somerville that are poorly used and could be developed into mix use housing structures that as individual buildings are on a small scale and blend more nicely with Somerville’s neighborhoods. If enough of that is done, there will be more housing in Somerville to help mitigate the affordability issue. It will not happen overnight, but they won’t be eyesores (or worse) for decades to come, as these large housing structures often are. I don’t think we should be allocating a certain percentage of housing to “affordable housing” for the reasons I mentioned in my previous post above. I think affordability will balance out. Sure, some people still might be priced out, but that will *always* be the case, even with “affordable housing”. But at least it is done fairly.

  9. Harry says:

    As usual, the middle class gets screwed by the rich AND by the poor.

  10. A Neighbor says:

    This op-ed doesn’t acknowledge how controversial this housing project has been from the outset, though obviously it never would have been written if the neighborhood supported it. The problem is that the new zoning for Union Square was not appropriate for this historic corner of Prospect Hill, but nobody realized what it would mean until SCC proposed a 5 story building in place of the old 2 and 3 story Pope School.
    If the Somerville Community Corp wants the word “Community” to mean anything, it has to listen and respect the concerns of its future neighbors. This means a lower building with usable green space, enough parking, and that looks like it belongs in the area.

  11. Josh says:

    Will this development give priority to current/long-term Somerville residents? If not, then it is just going to be importing more low-income residents which will be a further drain on our tax dollars and city services. It sounds like the SCC has becme what they seem to abhor, just another greedy developer swooping into the city to take advantage of its’ popularity, with the approval of the administration.

  12. Anna says:

    Good questions, Josh.

  13. Greg says:

    To answer Josh’s question, NO. Since the SCC uses Federal funding it can not prioritize Somerville residents. SCC is nothing but a bunch of greedy developers who only talk and act like they care about the community, while laughing all the way to the bank at the taxpayers expense. Their CEO is a snake oil salesman who has made a significant living (over 110K salary) exploiting and bamboozling the people of Somerville.

  14. Julia Prange Wallerce says:

    To clarify once more, SCC gives a 70% priority to Somerville residents for all new developments. So yes, current/long-term Somerville residents will have the strongest opportunity to live at 181 & 197 Washington Street, which does conform to existing zoning. Site plans are a result of extensive neighborhood meetings and design workshops, and have incorporated community input and concerns.

    The market will bring plenty of new luxury condos to Somerville. This is an opportunity to create some housing for those people who make low and moderate incomes, and who are at risk of being priced out of our community. This site contains information about the project, projected rents, and who will live there: http://www.everyonessomerville.org/

  15. Luis says:

    Greg check this out, it’s from Wikipedia, by the way do you know what Wikipedia is?
    “An ad hominem (Latin for “to the man” or “to the person”), short for argumentum ad hominem, is an argument made personally against an opponent instead of against their argument. Ad hominem reasoning is normally described as an informal fallacy, more precisely an irrelevance.”

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