Somerville’s Development Challenges: Gentrification

On February 14, 2014, in Latest News, by The Somerville Times

shelton_webBy William C. Shelton

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

Last week I went to a Board of Aldermen hearing. It concerned breathtaking increases in many taxpayers’ property assessments. One after another, ‘Villens on fixed incomes and independent small business owners expressed realistic fears that they would be unable to remain in their city.

That morning I had read a New York Times business-section story headlined, “The Middle Class is Steadily Eroding. Just Ask the Business World.” While right-wing propagandists dispute America’s growing economic inequality, “in corporate America there really is no debate at all. The post-recession reality is that the customer base for businesses that appeal to the middle class is shrinking as the top tier pulls even further away.”

Preparing this column, I found these prophetic lines, written 14 years ago by author and journalist Rebecca Solnit: “Gentrification is just the fin above the water. Below is the rest of the shark: a new American economy in which most of us will be poorer, a few will be far richer, and everything will be faster, more homogenous and more controlled or controllable.”

The hollowing out of the American middle class that I documented in a series on inequality is well apace in Somerville. As the people who made our city so attractive to outsiders are priced out of their homes, the fabric of community unravels.

As the Cub Scout den mother, neighborhood peacemaker, church deacon, little league coach, community-focused artist, school volunteer, and local merchant who gave credit to trusted neighbors are displaced, we are all diminished. And yes, these are all real, specific ‘Villens. As we are increasingly surrounded by strangers, we are lonelier and less secure.

The Centers for Disease Control reports that populations affected by displacement “are at increased risk for the negative consequences of gentrification. Studies indicate that vulnerable populations typically have shorter life expectancy; higher cancer rates; more birth defects; greater infant mortality; and higher incidence of asthma, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.”

Mindy Fullilove, M.D., describes this in her book Root Shock. “Root shock, at the level of the local community, ruptures bonds, dispersing people to all directions of the compass. … The elegance of the neighborhood—each person in his social and geographical slot—is destroyed, and even if the neighborhood is rebuilt exactly as it was, it won’t work. The restored geography is not enough to repair the many injuries…”

In a narrow sense, Somerville is still an immigrant city. Two or more newly arrived families share a two-bedroom apartment while they work multiple jobs. But to rent their own apartment, they go to Everett, Revere, or Malden, just as immigrants who have been here for decades increasingly must, thereby diminishing Somerville’s vaunted diversity.

As with other gentrifying communities, Somerville’s average income and housing costs are increasing, while its average family size is decreasing. The Census reports that between 2000 and 2010 the number of school-aged children living in Somerville dropped by 30%. In 2010, only 76% of the city’s residents had lived in their housing unit for more than one year, while only 30% had lived in theirs for more than ten years.

The number of kids in the city is now beginning to creep back up as more parents put down roots. Their participation in community life is welcome. But too many newcomers dismiss concerns about gentrification’s hidden injuries, as if market transactions are inviolate, while enduring human relationships are expendable.

It’s getting late, but we need to decide what we want to be as a community. If we allow current trends to continue, the authenticity, diversity and cultural wealth that makes Somerville so special will disappear, leaving a homogenous, transient bedroom suburb and playground for high earners.

When I consider some of city government’s actions, I have to wonder whether gentrification is a policy, either conscious or de facto.  Whenever the mayor and his staff have the opportunity, they chant “Somerville is a great place to live, work, play and raise a family.” But that begs the question, “For whom?”

Bill de Blasio, New York’s populist new mayor, used those exact words in his inauguration speech, but the context was different. He was pledging a series of initiatives to support working families “so that New Yorkers see our city not as the exclusive domain of the One Percent, but a place where everyday people can afford to live, work, and raise a family.”

When I hear Somerville officials use that phrase, I wonder, to whom are they marketing the city? If building permits, condo conversions, and out-of-reach housing costs are any indication, they are selling Somerville to childless, affluent newcomers.

At some of the many festivals and street events that the city sponsors, I recognize no one from old Somerville. I wonder about those events’ intended purpose.

In the solicitation that the city issued to attract a Union Square master developer partner, I find these words:  “Somerville has the second highest proportion of residents between the ages of 25 and 34 in the United States.” I have to wonder if that’s complaining…or bragging. If that is the sales pitch, what is the product being sold? And to whom?

My doubts aren’t merely rhetorical. I sincerely don’t know whether gentrification is a conscious objective, or the unintended consequence of well meaning but flawed policies.

Twenty years ago, then alderman Helen Corrigan told me she was concerned that “02144 is becoming too much like 02138.” In terms of affordability and demographics, the transformation is now complete. But important differences remain. Cambridge’s residential property rate is only two-thirds that of Somerville’s. And there are two jobs for every Cambridge worker, but two Somerville workers for every job.

The latter suggests half of what we need to slow down gentrification. Working-class families must have sufficiently high income, or sufficiently moderate housing expenses, if they are to remain here.

If nonretail commercial development continues as hoped for in Assembly and Union Squares, it will bring jobs with a variety of entry points and opportunities for career development. The city recently announced a welcome initiative to link ‘Villens with those new jobs.

We need to go well beyond this modest program, ensuring that Somerville workers of all ages can obtain the training and retraining needed to qualify for emerging industry jobs. While linkage and training programs will cost some money, I can suggest a number of unnecessary budget items whose elimination would free up the cash.

The expenses half of the equation is housing affordability. If we want to get serious about it, we will need to permanently remove some portion of Somerville’s housing stock from the inflationary cycle without recreating public housing failures. How we do this is the subject of the next column in this series.


31 Responses to “Somerville’s Development Challenges: Gentrification”

  1. MarketMan says:

    02144 is nothing like 02138. Have you been to Brattle St in Cambridge??

    In my opinion, all the effort to avoid gentrification has hurt Somerville more than it has helped. We need to work more on bringing in business. That will alleviate tax burden and help at least those on fixed incomes.

  2. Joe Lynch says:

    In my circles and others across the city, the new motto being chanted is:

    “Somerville, a great place to live, work, play and raise a family. If you can afford it!”

  3. matt says:

    Joe, if you can afford it is a statement that accompanies most things in life. Though maybe not for you or I there are many people that would like to live in downtown Boston or neighborhoods like back bay or harvard sq or brookline village. I am sure Weston is a great place to live, work, play and raise a family.

    The reality is, most people cannot afford to do so. Everett and Lynn and Revere are also “great place to live, work, play and raise a family” and while some people can afford to live there, for many it is out of their ability to afford. So should we do something, where should we start and where should we stop and equally as important – for whom.

    The “who” question is the one that most weighs on my mind. Targeting programs to enable affordability in the city is critical. This can enable the city to create programs that help those on fixed incomes stay in their homes as long as possible. Promote a community full of artists and musicians that fuel the cities creative identity. Support small businesses to stay and thrive rather than being displaced by national chains.

    What we should do while seemingly more direct is often the most divisive part of the process. Should we build new buildings and fill them with subsidized housing, require that new development set aside 15 or 20% for subsidized units, should we rezone to allow for massive development to add to the housing stock to restrain the growth of the cost of housing. There are many options and many approaches, none of which are liked by all and as marketman inferred often create more resentment and fear than anything helpful.

  4. MarketMan says:

    Matt: well put. I would love for people to afford what they want in life, but that’s not always possible. I would also love for Somerville to be inclusive, but unfortunately, the reality is that affordability is one criteria to live in Somerville. Somerville has always been affordable to some and unaffordable to others. The bar may have risen, but that’s due to market shifts (not *necessarily* gov policies). Even if we were to magically do something to allow the poorest in Somerville to afford to continue to live here, there are some people in this world that are still poorer than that and cannot afford that standard of living. So where do you draw the line? The answer I keep hearing (indirectly) is that the line is “whatever is affordable to me”. Well, frankly.. that’s just not fair.

  5. ritepride says:

    In the Curtatone Development Group Plan there is no such thing as a ‘neighbor’hood. I hear some of the gangs in east Somerville actually own homes in the ‘hood’.

    Heard that Barbara Reubel, Tufts PR, [God she’s been around almost as long as Jumbo] did a hizzy frizzly cause SCAT showed to film the recent “meeting” with neighbors and she wanted the cameraman ejected though the neighbors objected to Barbs’ Gestapo Tactics,

    Attending Aldermen were surprised to hear tthat Tufts wants to use the Powder House Community School for day and evening classes as it was not in the plan book Tufts have previously given the BOA.

    The next meeting the neighbors should demand to have “our” [we pay his salary] City Solicitor and SCAT at the meeting to have Tufts show their “Master Plan” tp their “neighbors” so everyone knows the future plans of academia.

  6. Get Real says:

    Agree with MarketMan.

    This idea that lower income people somehow contribute more to the “authentic character” of Somerville than those that have found a way to succeed in this economy is simply ignorant. The idea that anyone who can afford market prices has no “authenticity, diversity and cultural wealth” is insulting. Your implication that city policy intended to make Somerville a great place to live is somehow flawed because people actually end up desiring to live here is also ignorant. Many residents are obviously enjoying the festivals and city events. Don’t know anyone? Try introducing yourself. And most of all, the idea (with absolutely no evidence) that “diverse” people will not be able to live here without help is ignorant and wrong. It’s clear when looking at demographic data, the steady increase in ethnic diversity in this city over the past few decades has mirrored the steady rise in property prices.

    Step outside of Somerville – when compared to surrounding towns and cities, Somerville seems to be somewhere around the middle of the pack for housing prices. Don’t worry, Somerville isn’t suddenly going to get more expensive than Belmont. It is affordable to the modern (educated) working class, which is different than the working class of 50 years ago. No place, much less a vibrant city, should be frozen in place. Shape the city you want to live in, but don’t demonize others for working hard and simply choosing where they want to live.

  7. ritepride says:

    But see “Get Real” why should people who have lived here all their lives have to change their way of life to accomodate yours and have their neighborhoods overturned.

    We have been through it before when cell phones first started and computer start up companies which became big names back then like, Digital, etc. New tech companies were moving into Somerville’s Inner Belt and even on Medford St by the Cambridge line.

    Companies that were having Monday morning breakfasts and Friday afternoon Beer Breaks then having to go in on Sat./Sun. for overtime to make up for the lost time on Monday and Fridays…The Yuppie Generation movin on up…Only then to crash. Then Mayor Ralph closed and tore down schools as the student population dramatically decreased as the “now generation” had moved on

    Be honest your employer, as many of the superhighway companies do, decides to move its operations to Chicago, then you will “be outta here’ and move with them. Meanwhile we are left with the crap you brought in here with vacant storefronts, etc., as the fatte latte crowd has moved on. The “new” schools that will have to be built for your “spurts” will then become vacant again.

    When the “Feds” closed Fort Devens, the state thought that the area communities, Ayer, Shirley, etc. were going to take over covering Fort Devens with municipal services when the state was going to convert it into a “Green Tech area. The response from Ayey, Shirley, etc was “No Thank You” as “We” (Towns) built schools, etc to take care of the Fort Devens community, now they are empty and we are stuck with them, thus there would be no mutual aid from the surrounding towns with Fire/Police/EMS/DPW services to “Devens”.

    Thus the Mass Development Agency has the responsibility to run “Devens” which has its own Fire Department, EMS, etc. a lesson learned.

    You have the right to choose where you live but you do not have the right to discriminate and make the long term residents inconvenienced or burdened by your lifestyle.

  8. cambridgeyuppie says:

    Change is not always better… There is some serious emptiness in the new Somerville. I used to live in Cambridge, now I live in Davis Sq. I have a good IT job and so all should be good, right? Unfortunately, my local life has progressively become empty. Davis Sq just feels very sterile and fake these days, it does not have the vibrant qualities it used to have (those qualities were why I moved there in the first place)… It will take some serious crisis to get people to bond again. There is no other way, really. Everybody has to feel threatened and they have to feel like they are in the same boat again.

  9. Bill,

    In highlighting detrimental outcomes of relocation of the poor and middle-class, your pointing out the following life changing impacts: “Studies indicate that vulnerable populations typically have shorter life expectancy; higher cancer rates; more birth defects; greater infant mortality; and higher incidence of asthma, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.”

    If people really paid attention to how difficult it is for the working class to survive, maybe they would understand. That is how the mainstream media continues to fail us.

    I’ve gone back to a book suggested to me by a retired Boston Globe writer who also understood the forces which are reshaping our city. I’d like to share a couple of passages and will list reference below.

    “…the victims who are tricked, cajoled, and coerced into giving up hearth and home tend to fall into three broad categories: (1) the easily corrupted, who are instantly and totally blinded by any “large” cash offer, no matter how quickly the money is predestined to run out; (2) the gutless, who subliminally are eternal candidates to be walked over, misused, and then tossed aside and (3) those with the will to resist who understandably feel impotent, because they have little or no conception of what it takes to fight back”. (I believe we Villen’s fall into #3).

    Seems a bit harsh, but it makes me realize that we are targeted based on what we lack–the means, the know how, the cash. Do you think this would happen in a wealthy community who have the education, are trained, have the experience and army of lawyers to fight back?

    In the 90’s, while working at local hospital by the river, due to limited parking, the VP suggested a garage be built for employees who were using a shuttle from Watertown in order to get to work, cutting back on commuting time. The residents rallied and threatened to block any project which would prevent their view of “the river” from the large estate homes and peaceful community which surrounded what they claimed is still their “private hospital”. Occasionally, the VP would activate the intercom to remind employees to keep our speed limits down since calls where coming in from the surrounding neighbors who were being disturbed by what they classified as “fast moving” vehicles. Interesting to those of us who know the short, narrow streets. Police where asked to patrol the area in order to enforce their wishes.

    These simple examples you won’t find in the newspaper, you have to experience them first hand. The meaning is clear: What’s good for some is not good for all of us, because money still speaks the loudest. Forsaken of moral obligations, equality, help thy neighbor, commuter, immigrant, elder and child. Old money which once donated to just causes and charities we see less of, due to the new generations who are only concerned with acquiring and keeping their own wealth and nothing more. So what went wrong? Why haven’t these values continued to new generations who would understand the importance of maintaining all people whether rich or poor?

    I’ll leave you with this passage, so simple, yet so profound:

    “It is for the seemingly impotent in category 3 (above), that this book, with its varied examples of successful community resistance, is written.
    The strong are never absolutely strong, wrote Simone Weil in 1940 when France fell. “Nor are the weak absolutely weak, but neither is aware of this.” The powerful, she added, seem to “walk through a non-resistant element.” And then “suddenly things cease to obey them.” That “suddenness” is what disconcerts and panics an institution long accustomed to having its unchallenged way, and it is what leads institutional officials into irrational and self-defeating dead ends”.

    (c1976, “The Rape of Our Neighborhoods”, William Worthy)

  10. matt says:

    Pixi – The link between health outcomes and wealth are nothing new and have little to do with migration of people and a lot more to do with access to high quality food (nutrition) and safety of neighborhoods (exercise) and many would point out that somerville has become a far safer place then it was 30 years ago. At the same time access to high quality food has become scarce not because of availability but rather cost.

    While i think the classification is more than a bit broad and insulting to many it reminds us that change is driven by individuals. You are a strong voice and others show their voice representing people who want to stay in somerville and not so much resist the change that is occurring, but rather guide it so that your vision for the city can become reality. Other long time residents have shown different choices through their actions. Over the years many people have found themselves to be house rich They choose to cash in on this wealth and it is their choice. For every one that is forced out by increased taxes tens have left for greener pastures out of their own desire. For every one that leaves new people come with different ideas and perspectives on what the city is today and what it can be tomorrow and their voices are equally as important as yours.

    Not all the change is negative. Crime has decreased, we are a more diverse community with more people of diverse backgrounds than we were in the past, our schools continue to improve and maybe the changes to main street are not as apparent in davis sq which has been a popular destination for all sorts of people, but 10 years ago Magoun Square was more than half empty storefronts. Today if has many more businesses including a butcher, bakery, markets and great places to eat.

    Interpreting your final quote, change is always hard and even more difficult when it occurs rapidly, it is critically that as we experience change that we approach it thoughtfully and in a way that is positive.

    Stated differently- we need more involvement from all people and a lot less nostalgia.

  11. Freebie says:

    Surprising fact about diversity: The non-white population of Somerville has increased steadily since 1970 from under 5% to over 25% with no sign of abating.

  12. amen says:

    Cambridge yuppie – I agree and offer a reason. one of the changes here is the amount of condo development and housing prices. My street is all new owners who paid outrageous money for their home/condo. They work long hours, have active sports and hobbies, and are not involved in the city at all. They don’t vote in local elections, can’t name their ward or alderman. Went getting signatures, nobody knew anything local. They go to parties/festivals, but don’t participate in voting, volunteering for little league or helping out a neighbor. Not real interested in knowing the neighbors at all. Nice people, but it’s a big change for Somerville. on my street the hydrants & sewers were always shoveled out, as well as the elderly neighbors.
    Look at Cedar St. It will need its own zip code soon. How can that possibly be a neighborhood like it used to be? The emptiness you refer to is spot on, and a result of an overly developed urban area with a very cold feel.

  13. Philb says:

    Somerville is a safer place to be now because of gentrification. There is no debating that by a rational person. Most people who lived here “back in the day” got out to better places because it was terrible. The people who are left are a self selected population who are delusional about what life was like here. It worked for them back in the day, and they are unable to see that it didn’t work for others who left.

  14. Thank you, “Amen”. This is the reality which is rarely discussed and not ever a headline in the local newspaper.

    My tenants and new neighbors don’t vote either and have zero interest in the politics of this city. Many are only here for the short term–college and work, after several or more years, they are gone. Some cash in on their newly purchased house/condo only to buy in the local suburb so they can start a family and enroll them in the more desirable schools, preferably the “homogeneous” breed.

    They give nothing back to the community, other than their rents, only here for the taking. The landlords who remain dedicated to taking care of their rental units are at times overwhelmed with the amount of upkeep since the younger generation are less careful or conservative with property/water which is the responsibility of someone else, the landlord.

    Landlords are not the wealthy barons as perceived–at least not the ones who remain in their homes and practice morality. We know there are those in our midst who abuse their role and violate health codes- I know a few stories about that as well–failure to provide hot water, door locks, clean living space free of construction dust and free of sewage spilling into their washing machines. How many slumlords get away with these violations? Who are they and who do they know? One of my neighbors who rents from a local lawyer complained he would not fix her front door lock, it went on for months. If she made a call to city hall would anyone listen? Tenants are afraid of speaking out because they worry about being evicted if they blow the whistle on slumlords. What does the administration do to protect abused tenants? Is this a cherry-picking contest, too?

  15. Freebie says:

    Amen, we will always have these transient high income residents passing through. My block is about half and half as far as transients vs long term residents. Of the 7 homes closest to ours, 3 are transient condos and the other 4 have lived here for 6-20+ years.Let’s not pretend everyone living here wants to move in 4 years, it’s simply not true. With the density we have, there is room for both.

  16. ritepride says:

    You are correct “amen”. Seems a few years back Condo Conversion got dumped on the taxpayers and a bunch of developer$ and contractor$, they be gettin rich while we all pay for it

    The long term residents remember when the elected officials served the needs of the residents. Today, unfortunately, there are “some” who get elected only for the “paycheck”. Some of our elected officials are not even aware of what is going on in the city or their district.

    We do have who have aldermen who always have been hard workers for the residents like Aldermen Bill White and Dennis Sullivan. Likewise for Alderman Jack Connolly though he needs to decrease his concern for Tufts and set that concern for the residents. Mary Jo Rossetti and Katjana Ballantyne are new but have been getting involved in issues of concern like the PHCS, let’s see how they do.

    Any Alderman who votes in favor of selling the Powder House Commmunity School to TaxExempt Tufts should be impeached. The City needs to make it a Community Center and any developer with projects in the city should be donating towards that goal, especially FRIT.

    As I have said before the developers come and disappear and the problems are left for the residents/taxpayers. Look at “Maxwell Green”, the much touted about development off of Lowell St. up “For Sale” already. Same will happen down the line for FRIT’s Assembly Row which Somerville Taxpayers are now, [thanks to mayor joe], stuck with a $25 million Bond Debt. paying for FRIT’s construction project costs.

  17. Matt:

    Sociologists would dispute your claims. Relocating, forces middle class & poor into dire situations than presently experienced. $3-10k to move, is just a small dent for those who can afford it. This amount may as well be $30k-100k for those who have very little. It’s out of reach. The stress alone can worsen pre-existing health problems. What role does discrimination play? A compounding obstacle in their way of finding an alternate location. School children lose friends, grades suffer requiring tutors they can’t afford.

    If they are forced to move out of state, how do they get there? Will you be paying their airline ticket, storage, car rental, lodging, food and gas?

    Those who can’t afford medical treatment may be self medicating with alcohol and drugs. The sharp decline in social services is quickly becoming extinct. They lose their support system–friends, neighbors, relatives and social services they relied on.

    If you have never experienced poverty–you cannot fully comprehend the enormous hardship they endure. Some live one day at a time, wondering how they will get to the next.

    Local residents who moved to other towns, as Billerica & Stoneham some have regretted their decisions. Although diluted by transients, still miss the small town feel of our city. Those who chose to remain did so based on our values–we understand how important it is to live in a genuine community. Living in another region of the state which lacked a sense of community, can be a very lonely place.

    Many towns such as ours are unwilling to welcome newcomers–so we are not alone in feeling threatened by a tidal wave of change. It becomes obvious however, of the unfair bias in accusing us of the only town practicing this behavior — keeping the welcome wagon locked up in the barn. I heard–“Don’t expect the welcome wagon”, by other locals who didn’t want change. But it wasn’t from a Somerville local, so it was accepted. Depending what town you are from and where you live, will give you variations of this scenario, just as when we discuss NIMBYism. It’s okay to practice in wealthy and suburban towns, but not by Somerville locals–is that it?

    Lets move on–I see a class war on the horizon, perpetuated by this administration. A strategic maneuver–“keep them busy fighting amongst themselves so we can continue to reach our goals”.

    One cannot expect to create so much high-brow development in every corner of the city, at warp speed without their being some fallout, uprising and complaining by the local community. Again, we see a clear divide of the “have” and “have nots”. It’s unethical practice to intentionally drive out one segment of society, swapping for the other–based on who is the highest paying client and customer.

    If billionaires decided to descend upon our city, how long before the upper-middle-class will be driven to a neighboring town which does not practice the same cut-throat tactics in their false claim of “economic viability”. A mantra used to scare residents into thinking that if they don’t pay-up, all will be lost–which is a false sense of security. Why is the lighted banner in Davis sq., above the bank, displaying the sign, “Billionaire buys Union Square Property”? How distasteful. Should we just have a two day flea market of house sales and list the city on craigslist?

    These challenges only make me stronger. I push myself in ways I had never imagined 10-20 years ago. Cutting back on expenses increases income. If it means I have to raise rent in the Fall, then so be it. It is a matter of survival for me, unlike greed for others. I will be certain to share the reasons for the increase in rent so newcomers are aware. I contacted local rep’s about being forced to raise rents–since I’m certain we will be demonized down the road. I have no problem playing the role of the devil’s advocate. Whatever it takes–preparation is the key to success. True success is not defined by wealth. Failures teach us how to succeed. We don’t have to have all the toys at the playground to win the game…….
    (cont. below)

  18. Matt:

    (cont.from above)

    Crime has not decreased in our city. You are being naive. Just because it hasn’t made the headlines or crime log does not mean it doesn’t exist. Have you studied true crime?

    The diverse community you speak of is being forced out and replaced by the childless, homogeneous, professionals. Reality about schools -One local teacher shared that their “best and brightest students are fleeing the city”, for those greener pastures you speak about unknown to locals who have been forced to sell and leave the city they love, settle in other “blue-collar-towns”, they can afford to live.

    We bring our own perspectives to this forum–you share your experiences which are based on the past 10 years? I have lived here since the 60’s, born and raised with other family members who worked for the city as construction company owners, owned homes, paid taxes since 1930. Hasn’t our contribution far exceeded what the average house/condo flipper has done to our city? What’s their greatest achievement–making this town unaffordable? Let’s pin a star on their foreheads.

    My brother-in-law helped build the Powderhouse Community School which is now being seized by the encroachment of a local university. That was my elementary school as well as my two children.

    Sure, things change, but on the brink of loan shark tax hikes, we are planning to give away a valuable piece of land which could benefit the community to be used in other ways.

    Sorry but–$235 x 4 years in lieu of taxes is no major surplus for the city–it’s just another gift, like TAB, our former Western Junior High School. This is bad economics, especially since their plan is to build for 35 luxury condos, 265 mixed parking including underground, all spilling out to already congested Holland Street (between Davis & Teele Squares). They also decided to finally share plans for PHCS–Graduate evening and Undergraduate Day classes–so the “community park”, they claim is for residents, is actually for students. Surprise!

    The tax hikes, IMO, are a ruse to claim property which cannot be taken by eminent domain. The commercial property owner across from the existing parking lot of TAB just had his taxes hiked. How long will it take them to rebuild for those who need bikes, lattes, soft-serve and tofu salads while they are studying on the once city owned lawn and property?

    Someone should remind their PR person it’s bad PR to keep out local TV networks at PUBLIC HEARINGS which are claiming to include CITY RESIDENTS. I hope the Aldermen are paying attention to language of zoning before signing the dotted line. How long before they decide they want 300 dorms instead of classrooms? And if the language is vague, they might be able to squeeze it in when no one is looking.

    “a lot less nostalgia”–this statement is shallow, makes me wonder if you have ever experienced a sense of belonging, anywhere? If so, you would understand how important it is to those of us that DO–if you lack a sense of security in your surroundings, you lack a sense of self-identity.

    “Forture, said Louis Pasteur, favors the prepared mind, and misfortune can be brought on by the gullible”.

    (c1976, The Rape of Our Neighborhoods, William Worthy)

  19. Johnnie Jazz says:

    Freebie, what is your definition of non-white? Diversity is a wonderful thing and we should celebrate it. Sadly I certainly don’t see an increase in professional African-Americans or Hispanic-Americans here. I wish that was happening as it would allow for a diverse economically viable population/tax=base.

    What I do see is a huge increase in illegals living here because of silly sanctuary city policies. Therein lines the rub now with the city. You have a population of old-timers, yuppies on one-side and a new growing population of illegals on the other. Not sustainable or healthy for the city.

  20. amen says:

    Freebie, you missed the point. there’s always a sector of the population that’s transient. Right now we are overwhelmingly transient and you cannot have neighborhood ties and engaged communities when you have this. My neighborhood completely turns over every few years. that changes a community.

  21. cambridgeyuppie says:

    amen, yes, this is all part of the Neo-Feudalism push: divide the little people and make sure they do not establish meaningful links among themselves. Because when they do, well, we know what happened in France, for instance.

  22. amen says:

    yes, and Johnnie Jazz makes an excellent point. We’ve driven out the middle class. We are very heavily populated with low-income immigrants and high income. These two extremes cannot sustain the city. and so true, it prevents cohesiveness and the government can do whatever they want, nobody’s watching!

  23. You are right, cambridgeyuppie:

    At least Cambridge City Hall runs a fair game. Their advantage is living among the elite Brahmins who dominate the town. The liberals here have their own game plan which does not include us. Divide and conqueror is what appears to be the strategy by developers and the green light from the hill. They crash and burn everything in sight just to make profits and cry poor mouth when addressing complaints about tax hikes from home/business owners. I’m still wondering if the DOR realizes they are taking the fall for our escalating real estate taxes? I’m not so sure the gov is impressed with what is going on. In some circles, our mayor is referred to as the “whiner”. I suspect malice the mayor has against local constituents, see it as retaliation appear to be main target of his wrath. Most of us have been loyalists to the former mayor now in DC. I remain deeply concerned about the elderly and young working families of our community.

    Your posted reminded me of the following passage:

    “In Boston, for example, the Little City Hall manager in the area of ……. has observed that the school has expanded into the “soft spots” of the community. “They seem to want to go where there is the least resistance”, he remarked”.

    I can’t stress this book enough-

    “The Rape of Our Neighborhoods……”, by William Worthy, c1976″
    You can order it from Amazon as low as $3.95.

    It’s rich with history and factual accounts of neighborhood takeovers and provides valuable information of how it all works and what average citizens can do to prepare themselves and push back.

    I will continue to attend the meetings about the future of PHCS and address misleading remarks presented.

    Two points which were brought to light: The additional traffic created by 265 parking spaces and the obvious encroaching campus life on our residential doorstep at Holland Street and Packard Ave. I’m also a bit surprised the city is not taking the lead on these meetings, instead allowing the college to run the show. And the manner in which one of their rep’s addresses the city planner–the guy has a great deal of patience when he is told…”We would have more parking if the city didn’t use 71 of our spaces, used for city vans”. Aren’t these vans used for the elderly? How neighborly– another slip, “Our employees would not be parking on residential streets with free permits provided by the city, if we had more spaces”….unbelievable, what sheer arrogance. Now I understand why the city excluded our street when they were posting permit only signs–which I gathered signatures by residents and insisted we get signs since our neighborhood was being used as a Davis Square T stop parking lot, didn’t know the college had free parking at our expense. So they feel entitled to take our residential parking spaces, and think they are doing us a favor by creating 265 spaces to clog up Holland Street, making our neighborhood impossible to travel. Interesting, they push for parking, yet the universal sentiment overall by students and liberals is to “abandon your car for good health and save the planet”. I guess this only applies to those of us who won’t be working at TAB or taking a Graduate Class in the evenings. We wouldn’t want to inconvenience them now, would we? They are so transparent, it’s not even funny.

    Maybe we should demand to see their “master plan” which allegedly predicts the slow takeover of Ward 7 neighborhoods. I’d say that is quite alarming for those of us who already feel burdened by the sprawl by the college which I’d like to remind, resides in 02155. Why aren’t they knocking on Medford’s door? In my opinion, Medford still does a great job of maintaining a working class town and I hope they are keeping close tabs on what is going on here, because I’m sure they will be the next victim.

    This town is ripe for development and the reasons why–many of our resilient residents are over the age of 65 and feel they have lost the battle. The homes will go to their kids who most likely will sell since they no longer have an interest in living here, who can blame them? The next set of vulnerable residents are those residing in the east side–many don’t speak the language or understanding the situation because they are busy working 3 jobs or struggling to find just one. Some are from countries with leaders far lethal than what we’ve got at city hall, but he’s running a close second IMO. Ruining people’s lives can be worse than pulling the trigger. Lastly, there are those like myself who are among the last hold-outs willing to hang in there and maintain a sharp eye on what is coming. Keep writing to your reps and go to the open session Aldermen meetings to share your story. We do have a few good reporters left who will at the very least present the facts and post testimonies of residents who are trying to remain.

  24. ritepride says:

    I say @#$%^& the developer$ & mayor. We were originally a part of Charletown, let’s change things around and have a good laugh while doing it. Let’s have a mandatory ballot to secede from Somerville and rejoin Charlestown.

    The Boston Mayor is reigning in the Boston Redevelopment Authority’s rubber stamping projects. Then the Curtatone Development Group Developer$ can join joey at Legoland where on joey’s assigned lego table they can build to their delight and then knock it down by eminent domain and rebuild again and again and we the taxpayers will no longer be forced to pay for it.

    Cause the Big Boys from Boston wont let these little guys invade their turf. Look at the developer for Patsy’s site, listed with Secy of State as a foreign developer with a Dallas Tx address, with an agent (He must be the guy with the green card) listed on Trapelo Rd, then a Capital group in Boston…Who has built that new site on Rte 2 Cambridge by the bowling lanes, do you need a gps to follow this???

  25. Maybe the man on the hill is trying to be the next Bob Moses….we know how that turned out.

  26. MarketManMistake says:

    you say we need to bring in more business to lower taxes? booming development in Davis, restaurants, theater, coffee shops, Union, same thing, Lower Broadway on the move with restaurants also. Magoun on the rise, these places are packed. and our taxes went through the literal roof!!! so please explain how more businesses will lower our tax rate? they are spending it as fast as it comes in. Seriously, can someone tell me why this has no impact on our taxes? we’ve been promised it would for years.

  27. matt says:

    Marketman, sales taxes, like income taxes have no direct impact on our taxes. A business being successful or not does not help. If an area becomes popular, the value of the property will go up along with the rents for that space. The same for our residential taxes.

    Condo conversions have not helped this out because they actually reduce the amount of taxes coming in to the city because of the residential exemption. (an owner occupied 400k 3 family is converted and becomes 3 owner occupied 200k condos. The 3 family was taxed at 400k- 150k [residential exemption] = 250k, the condos are each taxed at 200k-150k [residential exemption] = 50k for a total of 150k a 100k loss in taxes for the city.

    The only way taxes do not go up is to have the tax base increase increase by developing new lots or increasing density on existing lots while restraining growth in city services. So growth is part of the answer but not the whole.

  28. Matt says:

    Bill, you’re trying to clarify the issue by tying the specific negative effects of gentrification to a larger system, but you’re failing because you can’t stop blaming all of Somerville’s problems on people who weren’t born here. I’ll be the last one to discredit the value of community, but so what if I didn’t grow up here? I was brought up in Southie and I moved to Somerville in 2005 because I was in college and the rent was cheap. I’m involved in local issues. I patronize local businesses. I shovel my sidewalk. There are many others who could say the same. Respectfully, what the hell else do you want?

    Gentrification is the manifestation of income inequality in the built environment, plain and simple. There’s no conceivable municipal incentive structure that’s going to stop Richie Rich from buying a house in Ward 4 for 25% above asking price in cash if he wants it, and there’s no amount of local pride that’s going to stop the owner from taking that money. You need to stop writing these absurd manifestos about Somerville’s rosy-hued past because they stoke the flames of animosity between natives and newcomers, and that is just not constructive.

  29. MarketManMistake says:

    matt, you make no sense. we’ve developed all these businesses in previously empty or forlorn areas. you say that doesn’t help, we need to increase lots or density of lots. I’m saying we’ve done this and it didn’t matter. Davis sq used to be a ghost town that shut down at 5 p.m. are you hearing what I’m saying?

    and Pixie–anyway you can cut back. you lose me with the lengthy posts. nobody’s here to read a book. you have good insights, but keep it short, just a suggestion

  30. ritepride says:

    The “Epitome of Hypocrisy” – a Tufts (Rachal Barrett) Professor at a public Somerville meeting giving reasons why there is a housing problem in Somerville taped by SCAT TV 3. You can bet your overpriced tax bill that she did not mention that part of the problem is Tufts buying up taxable residential properties and making those properties Tax-Exempt.

    As Alderman Heuston stated, she does not want a 3-5 year PILOT (reduced tax) from TUfts while Tufts sits on 1.2 Billion Dollar$ of endowment money, Somerville deserves a bigger piece of Tufts Endowment Pie.

    THE BOA should be asking the state legislature for a home rule petition
    regarding that Somerville now nearing 60% of total land in the city being tax exempt. That all residential tax exempt properties pay full taxes and no more property can become tax exempt until Somerville’s total tax exempt land is reduced to 25% total land in the city.

    Alderman Capuano needs to lead the way in having Congress lead the way in ending these tax exemptions for Colleges, Universities, Dover Amendment, etc. nationwide. There are church buildings/schools owned by religous groups now being used for other non religous purposes; rented out to other organizations, thus the original purpose no longer exists for that religion thus the buildings should become taxable property.

  31. Pixie Pocahontas says:


    The column style formatting gives the appearance my posts are lengthy.
    I’m trying to get the word out since we don’t have a great deal of time to shift course of where our city is headed. I don’t have a lot of time to post due to life’s responsibilities and a bit difficult to write short passages when the residents are continually being withheld information about proposed projects and fiscal issues which impact our lives short and long term.

    If it bothers you that much, feel free to skip over. I have no problem glazing over posts which annoy and disagree with my views. But I do appreciate your observation.

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