The last month has been busy for the Board of Alderman with many public hearings and a couple of very important votes. I traveled to my native country of Cameroon for part of the month as well, but I am excited to be back and at work tackling important issues that face Somerville. For this month’s newsletter I want to focus on two important votes that happened- the transfer fee and the Clarendon Hill redevelopment project.
1 The Transfer Fee Home Rule Petition:
◦ I spent a lot of time in my last newsletter updating you on the important changes and revisions that were adopted to the transfer fee by the Board of Alderman to make sure the burden of the fee fell on speculators, developers and absentee landlords where it rightly belongs. You can read that explanation still here. In addition, my fellow Alderman, Matthew McLaughlin wrote an excellent article clarifying any misconceptions that exist over the fee that you can read here.
◦ Sadly, I was away in Cameroon when the Board of Alderman cast their final vote on the Transfer Fee Home Rule Petition. However, before I left I read a letter to the board with my full support for the transfer fee. I have included the content of that letter below. I was so pleased to learn that the Board of Alderman passed the petition unanimously while I was away!
◦ The Home Rule Petition now goes to the state legislature where it needs to pass in order for Somerville to begin writing and passing the official ordinance.
Although I am not able to be here for the vote on the transfer fee, I want to share my strong support for the approach that the revised bill is taking, that is, separately assessing a 1% fee on buyers and a 1% fee on sellers, exempting family transfers entirely, and exempting owner occupant buyers and sellers.
Affordable housing was the issue in last November’s municipal election, and I believe that I was elected, in large part, because I committed to taking action to address the housing crisis.
The testimony at the Housing Committee hearing on the extent of that crisis and the testimony at the two hearings conducted by the Legislative Matters Committee put a human face on the crisis, which was already so clearly documented by the December 2015 Housing Needs Assessment, the MAPC’s 2014 Dimensions of Displacement report, and the RKG study commissioned by the City to inform the debate about the transfer fee.
It is crystal clear that we need to take action, and it is just as clear that we need additional resources in order to meaningfully increase the chances for Somerville residents to affordably and sustainably own or rent a place to live in this City.
Instituting new taxes and fees is always a controversial matter, and as we heard at the two hearings convened by the Legislative Matters Committee, there are many longtime Somerville property owners who feel unfairly burdened by having to pay a transfer fee. Alderman Hirsch’s proposal, exempting family transfers and owner occupants, and focusing on investor owners was a great solution to a challenging situation, and I strongly support the revised legislation incorporating that suggestion.
We also heard testimony about the need to better inform residents about the work we do in the Alderman’s Chambers, and about the work of the Affordable Housing Trust, and I would support anything we can do to make that work more transparent and accountable. The City of Somerville has come a long way in making public information more accessible, but we still have a ways to go. And the better the job we do, the more trust we will earn … and if the testimony we heard is any indicator, there is still a lot of mistrust out there.
I wish I could be here to participate in your vote to send the Transfer Fee Home Rule Petition to the State Legislature, and to participate in some of the other important meetings scheduled for the next two weeks. Before I leave, however, I want to make absolutely clear my support for the transfer fee legislation, and to express my appreciation for all the work that my colleagues on the Board of Aldermen are doing and have done to address the city’s affordable housing emergency.
2) The Clarendon Hill Redevelopment Project
• The Board of Alderman voted on Thursday to pass two home rule measures necessary for the Clarendon Hill Redevelopment Project to move forward. The Somerville Housing Authority’s (SHA), in collaboration with Somerville Community Corporation, Preservation of Affordable Housing, and Gate Residential, wants to demolish and completely rebuild the 216 low income public housing units, add 70 workforce middle-income units, and an additional 253 market-rate units.
• This redevelopment project has been a complicated one from the very beginning.I voted to move the project forward, because I had to prioritize the working class and low-income residents who desperately needed quality housing that provided them with the feeling of human dignity that we all deserve. Sadly, Clarendon Hill has deteriorated to the point where residents are living in units that can no longer be considered quality housing.
• I wish that the private developer in the project, Gate Residential, was able to reach deals with all the labor unions to provide quality, high wage jobs to build the project. I am happy that they reached a deal with the carpenters union, but next time a project like this comes forward, we need to make sure that high quality, local union jobs are a part of the plan.
• While I understand that this redevelopment project carries many complications and both costs and benefits for the City of Somerville and its residents, I believe this project is the best way to ensure that Somerville’s public housing residents get the quality of housing they deserve. I think the redevelopment proposal, if approved at the state level, will lead to both greatly improved housing stock and will provide the benefit of a more integrated, vital, mixed income community for Clarendon residents and its neighbors. While I am aware that this project will use up a great deal of the City’s available funding for affordable housing we simply cannot let pass by this unique opportunity to bring multiple sources of funding into our City to achieve this critical redevelopment for our public housing residents.
Your Public Servant,
Alderman-At-Large Will Mbah