PRIORITIZE AFFORDABLE HOUSING
Somerville has its origins as a working class and immigrant community were all could afford to live. We need to preserve our city’s roots, by making this a community welcoming for all by prioritizing affordable housing development.
● Identify and Assess Housing Needs
The City needs to determine what types of affordable housing need to be built; assess the needs of lower-income residents who, because of their immigrant status or lack of access to funding options, are being displaced out of the community; and work on options for middle-income residents who cannot afford to own a home or rent in Somerville. This requires taking inventory of existing housing stock, evaluating the condition of existing properties to strategize repair, identify expiring use properties, and determining best strategies for future development particularly close to public transportation nodes such as the Green Line Extension.
● Identify Options Beyond Inclusionary Zoning to Create Additional Affordable Housing Stock
We need to explore options beyond inclusionary zoning that create additional affordable housing units. The city needs to consider mixed-income development as well as mixed-use development that will help diversify affordable housing while lowering development costs. Development of affordable housing in Transit Development Zones (i.e. near Green Line Extension stops and future Assembly Square Developments) needs to be incentivized and encouraged by allowing higher densities but preserving the local character of the area.
● Address Housing Needs of the Homeless
Providing housing for the homeless and the services needed to support their transition to stable housing needs to become a priority. For new housing developments the City should explore partnerships with nonprofits like Respond and the Homeless Coalition who work with the homeless to ensure all residents of Somerville can stay. The City also needs to identify and fund services that facilitate the housing transition for the homeless.
● Explore Options to Stop Price Gouging Rent Increases
Some Somerville residents have been victims of sudden, high rent increases which cause displacement. The City needs to create a task force of non-profit housing agencies, renters and good-faith landlords to discuss the best options to regulate unfair rent increases and avoid displacement. Because it is often those without US legal status who are the worst victims of such displacement and as part of the city government, I will work to find ways to help protect these residents.
● Explore Options to Lower Construction Costs/Evaluate Permitting Process
The cost of construction often outpaces wage increases, which in turn exacerbates increased housing costs leading to displacement. We need to explore options to lower construction costs such as through mixed-use housing or prefabricated housing and assess the permitting process that can result in costly delays. The City should create a task force that includes representatives from the construction trades, local contractors and others to explore lower cost construction options and to understand how the permitting process could be resulting in increased housing costs.
● Incentivize/Encourage High Efficiency New Construction and Encourage Retrofitting of Existing Stock
Somerville needs to understand that affordability is not just the cost of housing, but also the cost of heat, AC and utilities. Last summer, the Boston Metro area saw utility bills go up by more than ten percent, placing an increased burden on renters and homeowners. Incentives and technical guidance need to be put in place for the retrofit of existing housing stock and to encourage greener construction practices for new buildings.
ENCOURAGE SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT
Buildings account for two-thirds of carbon emissions in Somerville. Climate change and environmental inequity have shown us that past construction and development practices are not sustainable and are not equitable. Somerville has embraced new sustainable measures such as incentivizing Passive House for Net Zero for greater density in zoning which are great steps to achieving Carbon Neutrality in 2050, still to reach this goal more aggressive measures need to be put in place to further green our buildings and lower carbon emissions.
● Require New Construction to be Green/Carbon Neutral
New green and carbon neutral construction practices and standards need to be widely adopted by our city to encourage the development of more efficient and healthier buildings. Because Building Codes are enforced by the State, Somerville will need to work with state leaders in developing these standards.
● Incentivize and Encourage retrofit of existing buildings
Somerville is full of beautiful older homes, but it is challenging and costly to retrofit these buildings. The city will need to explore programs and funding that provide technical resources and incentives for homeowners and landlords. While supporting our goals of becoming climate neutral, these changes will also make housing more affordable in the long run by lowering utility costs.
● Encourage Mixed-Use Development/Expand Commercial Base
Sustainability is not just limited to “greener practices;” it is also about diverse mixed-use development that will lead to economic sustainability. A city needs a mixed tax base that will allow it to support its services, school infrastructure and fund new, affordable housing development. Somerville needs to expand its commercial base to help fund a more sustainable future . Consideration should be given to mixed use developments that will allow for a higher density and but provide both commercial space and much needed housing.
CREATE OPEN SPACE
The COVID-19 pandemic reinforced the critical need for open space. Spaces for children, sports, recreation, passive enjoyment, festivals, and other uses improves the quality of life for all our residents. While we have many wonderful parks, playgrounds and other open space areas, we are still 110 acres short of our goal to add 125 acres of new, usable open space. Unfortunately, most of the land in Somerville is private, which means the City will need to encourage new development to include open space in their plans. For example, the City could allow higher density development if the developers include open spaces and less surface parking in their plans. Existing roadways can be redesigned for safety and a bit greener. The exciting plans to remove the elevated McGrath Highway to create a boulevard will have trees, parklets, and grassy corners. All these ideas will be needed to add open space and create a verdant city.
ENSURE ACCESSIBILITY for ALL
Sustainable and equitable development are critical goals and they must be joined by a goal of accessibility. Accessibility merely means that everyone can access the city, its buildings and public locations. It is a civil right that includes not only the needs of our motion- and sensory- impaired residents, but also our aging population, children and others. Accessibility works for everyone. The City needs to:
● Invest in the enforcement of existing accessibility regulations by creating a staff position to support compliance. A local successful model is Boston’s Architectural Access Board.
● Identify and assess public spaces and public buildings that do not comply with current accessibility codes. Fund efforts to bring those buildings into compliance.
● Prioritize the places that people use to travel to work, school or recreation. Fund upgrades of non-compliant commercial centers and major paths of travel to key destinations.
● Ensure that contractors and others understand the codes related to accessibility and know when they need to comply. If new construction or renovations trigger these codes, work with builders for compliance.
SUPPORT LOCAL BUSINESSES
Local businesses are the cornerstone of our healthy local economy. These businesses invest in the community and help sustain it in many ways. We know that significantly more money stays in the community when purchases are made at locally owned rather than nationally owned businesses. They are often owned and operated by our neighbors, employ local young people, and provide a way for immigrant communities to get started. Furthermore, local businesses are more likely to purchase supplies and services from other local businesses further enhancing the sustainability of our community. However, these robust relationships are threatened by larger businesses and on-line commerce which are forcing the closure of many smaller businesses. Somerville needs to find ways to better support our local businesses such as:
● Consider micro-loans to help struggling businesses survive;
● Engage local businesses to discuss barriers to get started;
● Provide assistance in other languages to help support immigrant/multi-lingual populations starting their businesses;
● Improve the permitting process. Long, complex permitting processes can be a barrier and therefore the city needs to find ways to expedite this process;
● Consider impacts of new development on existing businesses; and
● Encourage residents to shop local and enhance the street fronts to promote more foot traffic.
Add something along the lines of our new zoning codes will support higher density, sustainable development and an expanded tax base. We need strong leaders to help ensure these new developments fit into our community and deliver on their promises.
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