Somerville Community Preservation Act – op-ed from Community Preservation Committee members

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In November 2012, Somerville voters overwhelmingly supported the adoption of the Community Preservation Act (CPA). The CPA establishes a small residential tax surcharge to be used exclusively for historic preservation, open space, outdoor recreation, and
affordable housing in Somerville. Investments in all of these areas will improve our city and ensure that we remain a welcome home to people of all backgrounds.

Combining the surcharge, the Board of Aldermen’s generous match, and the state match we will receive, the City will have at least $4.5 million for CPA projects in the coming year. The Community Preservation Committee (CPC) looks forward to receiving applications for projects that will make Somerville a better place to live – projects of all sizes and from all corners of the city. No idea is a bad idea, and we are excited to see what creative ways you have to use this money. Although only property owners can apply for funding for projects on their land, if you and your neighbors have particular projects in mind for public properties, we encourage you to speak with your Aldermen and the relevant City Departments, and to help advocate for the projects you believe would benefit your neighborhood. The Board of Aldermen has the final determination on the projects the CPC recommends funding, so working with your Aldermen will help familiarize them with the benefits of projects on which they may be voting.

Over the last eight months, the CPC worked diligently with our residents, elected officials, community groups, and others to create a plan that serves as a guideline for our priorities in assessing applications. We held several public hearings, on both ends of the city, to maximize public input on how we prioritize spending money on projects in our neighborhoods.

Based on this process, we decided to devote 45% of our budget – at least $2.1 million this year – to create or retain permanent affordable housing and support programs that achieve the same. Affordable housing is a critical need that is expensive to provide. This investment will help keep Somerville families in their homes, continue our long tradition of welcoming diverse new residents, and help house our homeless. We are proud to partner with Somerville’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund, who will evaluate applications for CPA funding for affordable housing projects. With more than 20 years of experience funding these very projects, the Trust’s expertise will be immeasurably helpful.

Again, reflecting community priorities, we are also devoting 15% of our budget, a minimum of $700,000 in this year alone, to create, preserve, and rehabilitate recreational and open space. Somerville is the most densely populated community in New England, and we have among the least amount of green space per resident. We must prioritize not only the creation of more green space, but the improvement of those areas we already have. Somerville has done an admirable job of this over the past twenty years – the availability of CPA funding allows us to do even more.

Similarly, we are dedicating 15% of our budget to historic preservation projects. We are fortunate to have historic landmarks, homes, and artifacts within our borders. Until now, we have not had adequate resources to preserve them. With the availability of CPA money, we hope to protect these resources for generations to come.

We have set aside a full 20% – at least $930,000 this year – as an unrestricted reserve to supplement, if appropriate, projects in the three focus areas. While we are not required to spend this reserve during this year, it is helpful to be able to fund specific, worthy projects that go above and beyond the already-budgeted amount. We expect to direct this money mostly toward open space and historic projects, in light of our high initial commitment to affordable housing. The money that is not spent this year will be saved for projects in future years. Finally, up to 5% of the budget, or up to $230,000, may be used for administrative costs – paying for a much-needed historic preservation plan, due diligence on project proposals , and our staff person’s salary. Unspent administrative funding will also be devoted to projects in future years.

We look forward to hearing your ideas for new projects and working with you to make Somerville a better place to live for all of us.

Sincerely,

Michael A. Capuano, Esq., Chairman – Planning Board representative
Dick Bauer, Esq., Vice Chairman – Historic Preservation Committee representative
Tanya Cafarella – Housing Authority representative
Elizabeth Duclos-Orsello, Ph.D. – General public representative
Michael Fager, Esq. – Conservation Committee representative
Arn Franzen – Parks and Open Space Department representative
Ezra Glenn – General public representative
Courtney Koslow – General public representative
Uma Murugan – General public representative

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