Questions to William Tauro From the Somerville Fair Housing Commission

About the the Somerville Fair Housing Commission:

The Somerville Fair Housing Commission is a public body, and it does not endorse candidates, but they are delighted to give candidates the opportunity to make their views about non-discrimination in housing known to Somerville voters.


1. Have you ever seen or personally experienced discrimination in housing (either in renting, buying, or getting a mortgage)? What did you observe, how did you handle it, and how did vou feel about it?

Billy Tauro’s Response:

My most powerful experience with discrimination in housing happened to people I love.  My wife is a Brazilian immigrant and I saw firsthand the things her family and friends had to deal with.  I heard stories of how they just gave up when they hit the discrimination wall.  Some of them sought help from agencies that are often underfunded.  I feel very angry about it.  Sometimes credit scores are used as a reason for denial which is really thinly veiled discrimination against a group of people.

Question 2:

2. What do you think are the most common forms of housing discrimination in Somerville?

Billy Tauro’s Response:

Currently, one of the biggest factors in housing exclusivity is cost.  When there is a bidding war on a piece of real estate in Somerville, the house goes to the highest bidder regardless of who they are.  Huge property prices become huge rents. So, the issue becomes the groups that these huge price tags exclude from living in Somerville.  People of modest income helped by housing vouchers must not be excluded from renting a unit by law.  Also, condo conversions have resulted in a lot of smaller units which excludes by size, people with children.  The problem arises when the voucher does not reflect the cost of the rental unit or fair market rates.

Question 3:

3. What is the most important thing that Somerville landlords, property managers, real estate agents, or owners selling their homes need to know to further Fair Housing in Somerville? What would you do to increase compliance with Fair Housing law?

Billy Tauro’s Response

It is very important for landlords, property managers, real estate agents to be reminded of the Fair Housing Law.  Every real estate office licensed to work in Massachusetts should have Fair Housing posters and flyers in different languages stating the law.  The Fair Housing Law should also be on their web sites.  All city departments dealing with housing should disseminate the Fair Housing Law as a part of their interactions with residents.
It’s important to have workshops where landlords and tenants learn their rights and responsibilities.  I have known people who have been squeezed out of Somerville because a house was sold, and the new owner doubled their rent; I have known people who had to move out of Somerville because the property manager upped the rent to an unsustainable level that can be met by two unrelated professionals in the unit but not a family. I want to generate more commercial tax revenue to take the burden off landlords and more reasonable rents for tenants.

Question 4:

4. What do you see as the link between affordability and Fair Housing in Somerville?

Billy Tauro’s Response:

The percentage of income spent on housing helps define affordability.  Housing cost burdens of 30% – 50% severely burden Somerville residents many of whom are on fixed incomes or are of low income.  Bidding wars on real estate, high income young professionals, expanding rapid transit makes Somerville housing costs over 150% higher than national housing costs.  People of modest income, frequently immigrants and minorities, don’t stand a chance of living in Somerville unless they are helped with rents adjusted for income.  I think the Affordable Housing Trust Fund needs to be looked at and expanded to help with this.

Question 5, a , b, c, d:

5. If you are elected, what will you do on the following issues to address systemic housing discrimination against protected classes and to Affirmatively Further Fair Housing in Somerville?

a) Policies and programs Somerville can use to diversify neighborhoods

b) Continuing to protect and enforce condominium conversion restrictions and other measures to ensure housing for families with children

c) Preventing discrimination against disabled individuals in need of housing that have emotional support animals

d) Preventing discrimination against households with Section 8 Vouchers or other rental subsidies

Billy Tauro’s Response:

a.  We have many policies and programs to aid diversification.  The need to be acknowledged, enforced, and expanded.
Diversification means community.  Neighborhoods have been decimated rather than brought together.  The power of economics has forced poorer families out.  We need to focus on stability and maintaining the concept of strong connected neighborhoods.  Policies must be made to encourage and support all who are here and those who come here.  The term “Resident” cannot be applied if such a high number are constantly in flux.  As our housing market prices continue to rise, the diversity we look for is forced out.  Affirm means to make positive change that meets challenges we face.  Diversification does not mean gentrification.

b. The urban sprawl has continued with the expansion of condominiums and other new housing. Working class families have been disenfranchised with condominium conversion.  Many times the units are not feasible for those with children or multigenerational families. Housing discrimination takes many forms  Condominiums and other housing not only are not feasible for families of many kinds but also not “affordable”.  Affordability is a misused word.  What high paid professionals can afford became out of sight for many families.  Increased efforts need to be made to insure all can live and function as valuable residents.  As with all development, we need to be vigilant in our awareness of what we have and what can be utilized.  There is a lot of rhetoric about what we can do about climate control and energy consumption, taking land, our natural resources and native species of animals and plants contributes negative and unsustainable consequences.

c. Disabilities come in many forms.  Once documented compliance should be enforced.  We live in a fragile, judgmental world that is constantly in flux.  Emotional Support Animals provide a much needed service for many who suffer from loneliness. anxiety, depression and other many times unseen issues.  The stigma of mental health is still with us.  Remedies and concrete alleviations must be recognized and accepted.  Of course in reality owner occupied housing must be acknowledged if there are health related or other pertinent issues that might effect compliance.  Working together we can find workable and compassionate solutions.

d. Rental subsidies of every kind contribute to a viable and vibrant community.  Acceptance contributes to diversification of our neighborhoods.  The laws of Section 8while being enforced must be encouraged and explained.  Further expansion of programs and opportunities with widespread information that is coordinated and integrated will make all programs accessible and understood.  Somerville needs to continue to be a welcoming city that recognizes all its residents and their needs.

Question 6:

6. What reforms do you see as feasible to ensure that older housing stock is maintained in a manner that supports the health and safety of all residents, including low-income residents?

Billy Tauro’s Response:

90% of Somerville’s housing stock was built from before 1939 to 1979.  Some of these units have lead, asbestos, narrow steep stairs and, because we are a city of hills, they have many steps to enter them.  The expense of addressing an issue such as de leading ($8,000 -$20,000) brings property owners pause, the same with asbestos removal ($7,500+).  One priority is to keep elderly residents in their home and not have them taxed out because they now find themselves in a community others.  Another is to help moderate to low-income property owners with tax credits to help offset the cost of renovations needed for health and safety.  Funding incentives for below market rent rates, money to supplement housing vouchers, and helping nonprofits working on fair housing issues are all things I will do when mayor to help both property owners and low-income renters.

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