Somerville News Weekly Letter to the Editor: Downzoning RB to NR – Eliminating 1500+ Potential Rental Units


Two immediate questions to the city and assessor’s office:

1) Devaluing my property by removing my current right to add a 3rd unit, how does the city plan to reassess for that lost value?  I assume my taxes will be reduced proportionately to its diminished value.

2) When will the City direct mail owners and explain to multifamily owners in RB so they will understand the consequences and impact?

Downzoning RB (3 units by right) to RA (2 units only) is an issue that will unite renters & property owners. 2000+ two-family properties are RB zoned. The majority will be downzoned to RA, eliminating the right to add on 1500-1700 rental units. This financially damages RB 2 unit property owners, detracting hundreds of thousands from our property’s worth + potential sale price.

I am a longtime resident/homeowner of a 2 family in Winter Hill in RB zoning. Most of Winter Hill across Broadway towards 93 is RB zoned.  WH is the last frontier in terms of investment/development.  WH has had no marketer like ESom; WH lacks a square, a large intersection, a T stop. WH has not benefited from value escalation like other areas. Under this zoning WH property owners will be hit the hardest. This property is my retirement fund.  By right, I could add a 3rd unit and intended to-a safe rental built with permits and providing revenue & taxes. Abutters include a 3 family across the street, triple decker next door, 2 6-unit properties within a block.  Allowing a 3rd unit will in no way ‘change the character’ of the neighborhood. With the proposed downzoning, I will not be able to build that 3rd unit, or sell that potential-a tremendous loss of actual value. The RA/RB report concluded there was little, if any, difference in neighborhoods, multis so intermixed that no differences exist in neighborhoods. Why not zone all the RA RB and help everyone? After public comments, the stringent proposed edits meant to impede developers, actually would financially impact me, the little guy, the most.  We RB zoned should retain our right to add a 3rd unit absent massive restrictions and special permits.

Given Som is predominantly rental property, the ratio of absentee owners ie the majority, have not only not been informed, they’ve had no input. Many property owners like myself don’t realize the huge consequences of the downzoning.

In 1990 and earlier rezoning, there was no such proposal to lower density. The demand for rentals have been increasing in just about every major city in the country. In view of today’s demand for rental units, downzoning amounts to a catastrophic proposal. As demand continues to increase, rents on existing inventory will continue to increase without relief. Major zoning changes come along once in a lifetime, IF that; the City is failing to meet the threshold of responsibly informing the constituency. Why not support an inclusive process? Homeowners have a lot at stake and deserve to be given a voice. Two recent mailings of tax bills and water bills would have been an ideal vehicle.  Great timing amounting to a missed opportunity to have mailed this information to all property owners.

The downzoning of RB to NR damages all parties as follows:

1)    By prohibiting existing two families from adding a rental unit, you are forcing all new rentals to be either new construction, or built in a new hot developing parcel.   These rentals would be likely rent for double the rent of a unit added to existing housing stock;

2)    At a count of more than 2000 RB homes, the potential is loss of 1500-1700 rental units – badly needed to ease some of the demand, as well as provide housing for 70+% of Somerville renters

3)    The proposed edits are prohibitive, restricting height, footprint, etc.  Owners will be encouraged to divide larger units, or worse, add an illegal unsafe unit. The restrictions are overreaching and are hardly better than a full elimination.

4)    City revenue – an added unit would require permitting fees = income for the City.

5)    City revenue – an added unit would create a higher assessment and permanent additional tax revenue for the city, forever.

The downzoning is contrary to the best use of these 2 families currently zoned RB in creating rental units at more reasonable rates. It’s financially damaging to most who own those properties, absent compensation. The city is overreaching and infringing on my rights as a private property, and hurting renters, owners, and the city coffers in doing so.

Thank you,


7 thoughts on “Somerville News Weekly Letter to the Editor: Downzoning RB to NR – Eliminating 1500+ Potential Rental Units”

  1. w1=renter
    w2=multiple property owner
    w4=lives with family
    w5=multiple property owner
    aal=3 owners, 1 renter

  2. Our tenants cannot afford to buy their apartments if they were condo’d. The small landlords are doing a lot of the affordable housing. If more burdens are placed on the small landlords the end result will be higher housing costs.
    Can anyone name alder people who own rentals and rent to middle or low income people?

  3. The 2 families already have a right to add a 3rd unit if they’re RB zoned. By changing these to NR, the city is forfeiting your right to add a 3rd unit. There seems to be no benefit and no logic. The city seems to want to devalue your property, fund their housing fund, implement 1st right of refusal which blights your property and drives buyers from wanting to buy, then the SCC can swoop in and steal your property because the city has badly damaged what its worth. Property owners, especially in RB, should get together and fund their own attorney – funding an attorney will be nothing in terms of cost compared to loss of property’s worth after RB, transfer tax, and 1st right of refusal. Developers will be moving in droves over to Medford because no buyer is going to try to buy your property and leave their money on the table patiently waiting 5 months to see if your tenants or SCC is going to buy it. Real estate transactions take 5 weeks. The entire market can change in 5 months. Your pool of prospects is going to go from huge, to miniscule – and that equates to loss of value. A tenant would need 80-100k income to buy a condo unit.
    Most tenants can’t afford to buy it, and would nearly double their rent if they did. Many don’t want to as they’re just passing through. Tenants with that level of income don’t warrant special consideration. Affordable housing should be reserved for those well below average median income. Don’t you think its more than coincidental that all these big proposals, never on the table before, and now all at the same time, work against the property owner. With the first right of refusal there is a ‘right to assign’. Why? If its meant to solely help tenants, why the right to assign? There shouldn’t be one. Because in trying to meet Somervisions requirement for creation of rental units, the city needs to get their hands on your private property. Think about it. There nowhere to build 3000 units of housing! They not only want your property, the idea is to damage your value by blighting it with this 1st right of refusal, taking away your right to build a third unit – so they get it really cheap. You think the city wouldn’t buy your newly rezoned Two-unit cheap, and then get variances to add that 3rd unit? Think about it – each proposal works with the other, intertwined, to the favor of the city and the affordable housing trust fund.

  4. Ann.

    There are a number of questions regarding the zoning this is one of many. It does not make sense if a neighborhood that currently has twos and threes why would it not be allowed to turn a two into a three. There are families that may need the room for growth of their family. If they meet the parking and other requirements it only makes sense.

    Its counter productive to the need for emergency housing? Clearly the cart is before the horse for some unknown reasons things are being done in a strange way lately.

    Residents need to dissect all the language and challenge the city on it when it does not pass muster.

  5. I have yet to get one letter explaining any of the proposals. Is this democracy in the U.S. of A.?

    Most of the proposals will reduce rentals. Supply and demand laws will kick in resulting in higher housing costs.

    At one meeting it was stated that *if* these proposals were to generate more housing units that state law was 30 percent would go to out of towners.

    1. Renters should be on top of this. If as the writer says, 2000 homes are RB, the city is forfeiting an enormous amount of rental units. If demand for rentals is INcreasing, then the stagnant number of rents will continue to escalate in terms of cost. New construction rentals – we all know those cost $2000 for a one bedroom. None of this makes any practical sense if the goal is more rentals, and lower rental costs.

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