Affordable Housing in Assembly Row

As I have testified at public hearings previously, I today renew my call for the Planning Board to reject Federal Realty’s request for a reduction in their affordable housing allowance in Assembly Row.

Laws get changed all the time for the benefit of our society, and they all come at a cost. We pass laws that govern the use of chemicals in our clothing and food which mandate changes in manufacturing processes. We pass laws that govern the use of cell phones while driving which mandate changes in behaviors. We pass laws that govern public safety and accessibility (in our building codes) that require material changes to buildings.

As private citizens, we don’t get to choose what laws we are exempt from – we just have to comply with not texting and driving.

Businesses are exactly the same. The unemployment withholding percentages change every year. As a business owner, I’m not allowed to choose what laws I’m exempt from – I just have to comply with the new Mass Unemployment Insurance Withholding rates.

After the Station Nightclub fire, we passed laws that changed the thresholds for installing sprinkler systems in public venues. Thousands of bar and nightclub owners in the state had to incur large unexpected expenses to install sprinkler systems. They didn’t get a choice or a chance to be exempt from that new law.

But here in Somerville, Federal Realty (FRIT) thinks that they should be exempt from our law that requires all new residential construction to include 20% affordable housing.

As a private citizen, laws change all the time that impact my life – but since I’m not a billionaire I don’t get to ignore the law.

As a business owner, laws change all the time that impact my profit margins – but since I’m not a 9-billion-dollar developer I don’t get to be exempted from the law.

It is absolutely clear to me that the only difference between Federal Realty and the rest of us is that FRIT feels entitled to flaunt or circumvent our laws in order to make even more money.

20% Affordable Housing is the law of Somerville as written. If FRIT does not want to comply, I encourage them to move on – there are many developers in Cambridge, Somerville, and the surrounding areas eager to build compliant projects on this site.

Please respect the will of the people as expressed in our testimony, the testimony of our legislators, and the legislation they passed. Please respect the equality of all businesses and citizens: the wealthy should not be exempt from the laws of our society. I urge the Planning Board to reject this requested waiver.

-JT Scott