April 2019 Ward 2 Newsletter

Hello Ward 2! Thanks for tuning in for this big update. There’s a lot of things going on as always, let’s dive right in!

AFFORDABILITY

  • Condo Conversion Ordinance Passed
  • Community Land Trust Kickoff Party June 12
  • Sewer/Water Bills to Increase 6-7.5%

TRANSPARENCY

  • Neighborhood Meetings Update
  • Office Hours Every Friday
  • Budget Season Starts June 6

GREEN SPACE

  • New Park at 210 Somerville Ave (American Legion Post)
  • New Park on Lake Street

LOCAL ISSUES

  • Traffic and Parking Updates
  • Sacramento St Underpass Repair Funded
  • State Senator and Representative Newsletters
  • Development Updates

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AFFORDABILITY

Condo Conversion Ordinance Passed

On March 28th, the City Council passed Somerville’s new Condo Conversion Ordinance. This law goes into effect on July 31st of this year, and it provides significant new protections that will prevent tenant displacement and help people who are displaced find new housing. It also provides a powerful mechanism to turn tenants into homeowners and create permanently affordable housing instead of leaving the floodgates open for more “luxury condos”.

I encourage you to download and read the full ordinance here to get all the details! In short, this ordinance does a few big things (and a bunch of smaller things, too):

1) Relocation Assistance – if you are getting displaced because your landlord wants to turn your unit into condos (or sell to someone who will), you now have the right to receive $6,000 in cash for relocation assistance to help deal with the first/last/security of finding a new place.

2) Extra Assistance for Elderly/Disabled/Low-income – if you make less than $57k/yr living alone, or less than $73k/yr for a household of three people, or are at least 65 years old or live with someone who is, or are disabled or live with someone who is, you have more protections: up to five years to stay in your current home at your current rent. During that time, if the landlord wants to convert into condos they must first help you find a new apartment in the City of Somerville which rents for the same or less than what you’ve currently been paying in rent. In addition, you’ll get $10,000 to help with first/last/security and relocation costs.

3) Tenant Right to Purchase – if you don’t want to leave your home to see it turned into condos, you now have the right to purchase it instead “as is” and go from tenants to homeowners. This right can also be used in conjunction with the city or a designated non-profit corporation that will maintain the apartment as permanent affordable housing, like Somerville Community Corporation or the newly-forming Somerville Community Land Trust.

These rights only work well if you know about them and can demand that the law be followed, so please help me get out the word by educating yourself and telling all of your friends and neighbors about this incredible new set of anti-displacement measures that are going into effect this year!

Community Land Trust Kickoff Party June 12

Speaking of the Somerville Community Land Trust: since talking this thing up during the entire campaign I’m thrilled to share the progress that our working group and incipient founding team have been doing is getting it off the ground!

I’m enormously proud of this team effort, and really believe that it is a big part of the long-term solution to our affordability problem here in Somerville. With Councilor Ewen-Campen and a team of dedicated community activists, we are moving from a concept into reality!

The Land Trust team is hosting a kick-off event on June 12 at the JFK school at Cherry and Elm (near Porter Square). Event details here: https://www.facebook.com/events/419372978627184/

You can find out more about Somerville CLT, and how Land Trusts work, at https://www.somervillecommunitylandtrust.org/

Sewer/Water Bills to Increase 6-7.5%

Engineering Director Rich Raiche delivered a presentation recently to the City Council that spelled out the massively overdue sewer and water system problems the city is currently facing. Years of neglect have led us here – with a centuries old system that is costing us more money in emergency repairs, as you have certainly noticed from all the sinkholes opening in our streets from collapsing sewer lines. Even now, the city is discharging sewer overflows directly into the Mystic River, and if we don’t stop soon it will lead to even more expensive fines from state agencies.

In addition, the water system is also very old, including lead service pipes in some places that desperately need replacing and valves that must be serviced before they lead to catastrophic failures. We’ve been lucky so far on this front, but it’s just a matter of time before a lack of replacement leads to serious issues citywide.

Those of us who live in Ward 2 know better than anyone that this problem is widespread, and that fixing it is neither easy nor cheap. Duck Village is underwater in any good rain, and every neighborhood in the ward has its own water management problems. Every other block seems to have had a sewer sinkhole this year. Most of the city’s sewage flows through our ward, and we don’t need it in our streets and basements. We need a lot of work done, and we need it soon.

The good news is that our new Engineering and Capital Projects director is extremely competent and has a strong team getting a plan in place to address these problems, and is taking a long view in how to put all the pieces together. The bad news is that it costs a lot of money, and it’s going to take a long time to implement these fixes.

I’m pushing for two big ways to help residents deal with these costs. First, adding even more tiers to a progressive water rate structure will help keep costs down for households that strive to reduce their water usage. Already we have a system in place that charges a lot less for the first gallons and a lot more for major users – but we can make that even more aggressive and I’ve already got an item in committee looking at that. Second, we have approval from the state to implement a 35% residential exemption on the water and sewer bills. That’s approved – but not yet implemented by the city’s Sewer and Water department. You can be certain that I’ll be hammering on this point during our upcoming budget meetings, and will get a date committed for when we’ll see that residential exemption on our water and sewer bills.

But make no mistake, this work needs to happen. I have no intention of seeing Somerville turn into Flint Michigan. Everyone deserves clean water, and we’ll all be better off financially if we can proactively fix these sewers before they collapse. This work sits at the intersection of financial responsibility and climate change, and I will work closely with the Engineering team to make sure the work gets done in a timely and cost-effective manner.

For all the details on the extensive work our system needs and the Engineering department’s plan to address it you can see the slides at this link.

Video of this presentation is also available online. This was a 5+ hour meeting of the finance committee, and the presentation starts about 4 hours into the video if you want to fast-forward to it.

For the financial details, a detailed presentation on that is available here.

TRANSPARENCY

Neighborhood Meetings Update

You’ve probably noticed that you’re getting more flyers for neighborhood meetings. That’s because since coming into office, I’ve insisted that every developer that wants to build in Ward 2 have at least one meeting (and usually several) to work with neighbors to ensure that the development benefits the neighborhood instead of just enriching the developer. Getting residents involved before these projects go to City Hall for approval has been resulting in dramatically improved results for the folks who live here.

I’ve spent hundreds of hours in the past year handing out flyers and knocking on doors to let you know about these meetings, targeted to get the word out to the folks who will be directly impacted by each project. In 2018 alone, I hosted 48 of these meetings specifically about developments in the ward – and so far in 2019 I’ve hosted another 13 already, with more planned for May.

There’s a ton of pressure from builders in this ward, which makes it vitally important that we all get involved to shift the power away from dollars and towards your doorsteps. If there’s a development planned for your block, you’ll know about it before it gets there… and as long as I’m in office, you’re going to have a real voice in what gets built.

Office Hours Every Friday

The front door to my house at 269 Washington Street is open every Friday Morning from 8-10am to y’all, and it’s usually a lively time! First come, first served – and with a lot of people and a variety of concerns getting discussed, the conversation is always interesting and it’s a great way to hear what else folks in the Ward are concerned about.

In 2018 I hosted 46 of these Office Hours days, and so far in 2019 my door has been open literally every Friday morning, all 18 weeks. Whether it’s getting caught up on a meeting you missed, talking about pending legislation, strategizing for future traffic calming projects, planning for upcoming streetscape designs, or any other thing that’s on your mind… come on down, have a seat, and let’s talk about what’s on your mind.

Budget Season Starts June 6

On June 5, we’ll be delivered a 240+ page book of the Mayor’s proposed budget for the 2020 fiscal year that starts in July. On June 6th, we’ll begin a series of 4-nights-a-week budget hearings to discuss it, and at the end of the month, we’ll be expected to vote to approve the city’s budget to keep the gears turning.

In Somerville, our City Council cannot add budget items or allocate funds – we can only cut line items or amounts. But with that said, the budget review is an enormously important time to make sure we’re getting a clear view into how our tax dollars are getting spent and what priorities the Mayor is funding.

During the 2019 budget hearings (June 2018) it took 48 hours in 12 meetings. In the end, I was able to personally identify and cut $1,132,866 in overruns from the city budget. I look forward to giving the same level of detailed attention to the proposal coming this year. Budget season is a great time to get a look into how the city actually spends the money.

GREEN SPACE

New Park at 217 Somerville Ave (American Legion Post)

Back in August of 2018, I submitted order 206486 calling for the city to purchase the former American Legion post at 217 Somerville Ave for use as a new green space instead of more luxury condos. So far, the mayor has yet to respond to this request, despite petitions and repeated calls for this important step to reaching our green space goals.

This is still on the table, so please feel free to reach out to mayor@somervillema.gov and let him know that public investment in creating green space in ward 2 is important – and that we have to act fast on opportunities like this.

New Park on Lake Street

Another new park is possible, this time thanks to the neighborhood meetings about development I talked about earlier. A developer purchased the JJ Sullivan plumbing building on Somerville Ave, and came to the neighborhood with a plan for two 5-story condo buildings and a lot of parking about 6 months ago. Thanks to a lot of meetings and conversation with the neighbors, we are closing in on a very different plan that will instead produce a much smaller-footprint single building that brings 19 affordable units to the neighborhood and a 8000+ sqft public park on Lake Street.

The details aren’t finalized yet, and nothing’s going to happen until the neighbors are happy and the plan goes before the Zoning Board of Appeals. But I’m excited about the possibilities we’re exploring here and really pleased with the positive results we can get when residents get involved and bring their passion and expertise to neighborhood negotiations.

LOCAL ISSUES

Traffic and Parking Updates

This newsletter is already very long, but I’ll just say that we’re all living in the middle of a construction nightmare between Inman, Union, and the GLX – not to mention the various dumpsters and cranes working on projects in the neighborhoods. It’s a rough time, but our Engineering team at construction@somervillema.gov and the good folks at DPW are working hard to keep streets clear and respond quickly to bad situations.

So far in 2019 I’ve had to address situations all along Beacon St, Durham St, Park St, Dane St, Hawkins St, Oak St, Houghton St, Washington St, and a few others I’m probably forgetting at the moment. It’s always frustrating for residents to have to deal with this stuff, but I want to hear from you about these problems and will push to get the city to respond. Send me an email when you have an issue, and we’ll get to work.

Sacramento Street Underpass Repair Funded

Nothing elaborate to report here, other than that we were able to approve in late March nearly a quarter-million dollars to perform long-needed repairs and maintenance on the Sacramento Street Underpass. I don’t have a construction timetable for that yet, but the job is out to bid and I will keep you updated.

State Senator and Representative Newsletters

You may not know it, but your State Reps (Mike Connolly or Denise Provost, depending on where you live in the ward) and State Senator (Pat Jehlen) also have newsletters they send out from time to time that can help you get a peek into the legislative priorities at the state level. I highly recommend checking them out!

Senator Pat Jehlen

(Senator Jehlen’s website is also very active with news updates: https://www.patjehlen.org/news )

• Rep. Denise Provost

(Rep Provost also posts thoughtful commentary on her website: https://www.deniseprovost.org/ )

• Rep. Mike Connolly

(Big Mike’s blog is also really great: https://www.repmikeconnolly.org/blog )

Development Updates

There’s more development meetings coming your way in Ward 2, and you’ll get a flyer on your door if you live anywhere near them. If you’d like to know more, swing by office hours or shoot me an email and I’ll gladly get you the details on what’s being proposed. At the moment, I’m looking at hosting meetings in the next month about:

  • JJ Sullivan Plumbing
  • Hawkins St Garage
  • 303 Beacon St
  • 24 Hanson St
  • 471 Somerville Ave

…and of course, Resistat on May 15. I hope to see you soon!

-JT Scott

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