(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