As Somerville develops, affordable housing policy is developing along with it. The City of Somerville has unveiled a draft of its new zoning ordinance — and the Affordable Housing Organizing Committee (AHOC) is excited to see that affordability is a major priority. AHOC is a group of tenants, homeowners, and affordable housing advocates organized by Somerville Community Corporation.
The draft zoning ordinance was presented to the board of aldermen last December and unveiled at a public information session on January 20. Among other changes, it raises the required percentage of inclusionary, or affordable, housing in large developments to 20% in “transformation areas,” targets subsidies to low-, moderate-, and middle-income households, and reduces parking requirements in areas near transit. The Board of Aldermen and Planning Board will be convening a public hearing on February 10 to solicit input from residents.
While the new zoning is strong, some members think it could be even stronger. AHOC supports a 20% inclusionary requirement throughout the City, and a threshold of 5 or more units to require inclusionary units. The group also believes the preference for Somerville residents should include those displaced from the city within the last two years.
Shortly before the new zoning was released, the City announced that it would convene a working group to advance Mayor Curtatone’s ambitious package of affordable housing initiatives, called Sustainable Neighborhoods. The working group will address proposals for a real estate transfer tax, a tax credit for “benevolent” landlords, and a plan to purchase and subsidize small properties. AHOC member Lauren Shuffleton says, “This represents an important step toward ensuring that Somerville remains affordable for all. I hope discussions about the zoning and the Sustainable Neighborhoods initiative are collaborative and productive. If so, we can make Somerville a national example of development without displacement.”
There have been many positive developments on the affordable housing front this year. In December, theBoard of Aldermen unanimously approved an ordinance adding new provisions to the current zoning code to promote and protect affordable housing through the special permit process. The ordinance added a new purpose to the code: “to protect and promote a housing stock that can accommodate the diverse household sizes and life stages of Somerville residents at all income levels, paying particular attention to providing
housing affordable to individuals and families with low and moderate incomes.” It also requires findings from the SPGA and developers to show a project’s impact on the City’s affordable housing stock.
The ordinance, filed by Mark Niedergang and co-sponsored by Rebekah Gewirtz and Katjana Ballantyne, was developed in collaboration with members of AHOC, many of whom testified at the bill’s hearing in September and contacted aldermen encouraging them to support it. As Afruza Akther testified at the hearing, “It is becoming impossible to find affordable housing in Somerville. The Planning Board should recognize this and think about affordable housing when they are approving new developments.”
“This was truly a collaborative effort on an issue that all of us are passionate about: keeping Somerville affordable and preserving its diversity,” says Fred Berman. Mayor Curtatone and members of the Board of Aldermen have all expressed concern about how development pressures are pushing rents and housing prices out of reach for longtime residents and newcomers who want to move to Somerville. Community members will continue to lead campaigns and work with the city to address the resulting displacement, both through the zoning code and through other channels.
The Somerville Community Corporation is a membership organization that provides leadership for sustaining the City of Somerville as a vibrant, diverse and tolerant community. We build affordable homes, offer services and lead community organizing that supports low- and moderate- income Somerville residents in their efforts to thrive in Somerville.