Somerville Alderman-At-Large Will Mbah-November Newsletter

1) Please come support my re-election kickoff event- Wednesday, November 28th from 6:30-8:00pm at La Cantina Mexicana

I am pleased to announce that I will seek re-election for Alderman-at-Large in 2019! I started my run for office due to a deep love for this community and a personal story that drove me to care deeply about community-led development, affordable housing and economic fairness. We have made a lot of progress as a Board of Aldermen, but there is a lot of work left to be done, and I am excited to tackle it. I hope that you found my decisions in my first term to be guided by a “community-first” approach. I am excited for the great work that lies ahead, and I need your support to be re-elected. Please join me at my kickoff and hear from State Representative Denise Provost, Community Activist Henry Parker and the Welcome Project’s Ben Echevarria.

RSVP to the event here. Or on Facebook Here.

If you want to help build a better Somerville, December 31st is an important campaign deadline for us, please GIVE NOW. Thank you in advance!

2) Get out and Vote

Please be sure to get involved and vote this Tuesday, November 6th! Elections matter and have consequences. Find your polling place here.

Personally, in contested races, I am proud to support Jay Gonzalez for Governor, and I strongly support Ballot Questions 1, 2 and 3. I am also very excited to cast my vote for future-Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley!

3) The Re-Development of Union Square- Update

I was moved by the public testimony that I heard regarding the transfer of land to US2 (the developer selected for Union Square) at our most recent public session. I strongly stand with the community on this issue. I will not support transferring the land to US2 until they complete good-faith negotiations with the democratically elected Union Square Neighborhood Council on a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA). This CBA must go beyond simply meeting the current laws and ordinances for development already on the books. I am confident with more time and better leverage, the community can get more of a say in its development. I look forward to empowering these negotiations moving forward. I strongly support community-led development like this as a model for the future in Somerville.

4) Condominium Conversion Ordinance

Over the past few months, the Board of Aldermen have taken up redrafting the City’s condominium conversion ordinance. The condominium conversion ordinance is intended to protect tenants when landlords decide to convert rental property into condominiums in order to sell individual units. Conversion of rental housing to condominiums over the last several decades has reduced the amount of more affordable housing rental housing in the city, and the existing condominium conversion law, enacted in 1985, is out of date and ineffective at ensuring tenants are treated fairly. In 2006 and 2008, the city attempted to amend the ordinance but both attempts were rebuffed by pressure from landlord and real estate groups in the area. Over the past few months, with input from community members and policy experts, the city has redrafted the condominium conversion ordinance in an attempt to provide more protection for tenants.

The proposed ordinance increases the amount of time that disabled, low-income, or elderly tenants – those who face the most challenges finding new homes in Somerville – have to find new housing options from two years to five years. It also adjusts the amount of money that owners are required to provide tenants for relocation to amounts more reflective of the cost of moving in 2018, from $300 to $10,000 for disabled, low-income, or elderly tenants and up to $6000 for all other tenants. Landlords would also be required to assist disabled, low-income, or elderly tenants with finding new apartments. The proposal also makes the existing requirement that tenants be given the right of first refusal to purchase their unit more practicable by increasing the amount of time tenants have to exercise their right to purchase from 30 days to 120 days (180 days for disabled, low-income, or elderly tenants). Additionally, the draft gives non-profit affordable housing developers or the City the right to purchase converted units if the tenant does not wish to purchase. The existing law is enforced by the Condominium Review Board, a five-member body whose members are appointed by the Mayor. The new proposal would keep the Board in place.

One of the major ways that condominium developers get around the existing law’s requirements is by only purchasing rental properties that have been cleared of tenants. By requiring properties to be vacant before purchase, developers avoid the tenant notification, relocation reimbursement, and right to purchase requirements of the ordinance; create incentives for unjust evictions and unexpected lease terminations; and deny tenant their lawful rights. The proposed ordinance attempts to prevent the vacancy loophole by requiring owners who purchase cleared properties to still give at least one-year notice to the Condominium Review Board before being able to convert the property to condominiums.

There will be several upcoming public hearings on the proposed amendment of the condominium conversion ordinance over the next several months. The dates for these hearings have not yet been confirmed, but it will be important for residents to provide feedback on the proposed changes to the Board of Aldermen. Please keep an eye out on my Facebook page for updates on the timing of these hearings!

5) Municipal Electoral Reform Efforts

I commend Somerville’s Clean and Open Elections Task Force on the completion of a year of work, the culmination of which is a recently-released report that makes some excellent recommendations for electoral reform in our city. I encourage you to read the report yourself. It’s an impressive, thoroughly-researched, and data-driven discussion of the ways in which Somerville should lead Massachusetts in ensuring fair elections by expanding voting rights and improving electoral participation.

Shortly after the task force released its report, the Mayor submitted to the Board a home rule petition that takes up two of the tasks force’s recommendations by seeking to permit Somerville to expand municipal voting rights to 16- and 17-year-olds as well as to non-citizens. I support this effort and look forward to working with my colleagues on the Board to advance it. I think Somerville needs to encourage and support increased political participation and activism among our young people and stand strongly with our immigrant community, and I think extending suffrage rights is one critical way we can do both of those things. The task force’s report also recommended that Somerville permit incarcerated people to vote. I strongly support this recommendation as well and hope we can include it along with the other two voting rights expansions that Somerville sends to the state house.

Though many of the task force’s recommendations would require the city to seek permission from the state government, others would be entirely within the city’s power to do on its own. One of those that stands out to me is the idea of having an election day festival. This seems like it would be a great way to draw on the Somerville community’s creativity and be a fun way to increase electoral participation.

A vital democratic process depends on everyone having a meaningful voice, and to me that means that we always need to be looking for ways to engage and bring more people into the process. The task force’s report is a welcome catalyst for community discussion on these issues. I hope you’ll take some some time to check it out, discuss it with your friends and neighbors, and share your thoughts with me.

6) Zoning Public Hearings

We had a Land Use Committee joint with the Whole and the Planning Board to hear public testimony on the proposed draft Zoning Overhaul. Approximately 30 people spoke.

The issue that occupied the most speakers was Accessory dwelling units. People want the opportunity to add a third unit for income or to support a family member. Others were opposed to allowing third units, for reasons of preservation of scale and also concern of adding more people competing for parking spaces.

The planning director made an attempt to compromise by making a provision in the zoning text to allow dwelling units on lots big enough to carry the added floor area within the required height, coverage and setbacks. This also will allow the unit if the property owner actually lives in the main unit, and it limits occupancy of the third unit  to three unrelated people. We still have to deliberate more on this.

There was also the issue about how the draft did not go far enough to increase density in West Somerville. I also heard a lot on how the current zoning did not address open space. There was need for much higher buildings in transformational zones.

Transit advocates want to see the zoning address parking requirements for apartment buildings in zones surrounded by subway stops.

The Planning Board will receive written comments on the text until Monday, November 26th.

Overall, they planning department have worked extremely hard under the leadership of George Proakis and have made significant improvement to this current zoning.

I hope to see many of you out at my kickoff!

Your Public Servant,

Will Mbah

Always feel free to reach out over email to sign up for the newsletter or to ask questions/voice concerns at aldermanmbah@gmail.com or call me at 508-718-8126.

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