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

Kickoff Event May 16th @ 6:30pm, Brass Union

I am hosting a gathering to officially “kick-off” my campaign for Alderman, and I’d love to see you there.

WHEN: May 16th, 6:30pm-8pm
WHERE: Brass Union
(RSVP requested but not required – no one will be turned away.)


Running for public office isn’t something I ever thought I’d do, but I’ve felt called to do it this year – both by the situation nationally and by the intense affordability and development pressure locally.

As I’ve observed politics both locally and nationally over the past many years I have seen that while protest is essential, real change only comes with electoral pressure. It is up to all of us to get involved, to contribute, and to vote. And for some very few, it is on us to stand up and run for office.

Standing for election is no small matter. A candidate is asked to give up 8 months of their lives to knock on doors, make phone calls, and spend every possible moment working on the campaign. In some cases, that means leaving a job to do so. It also takes a lot of money: winning this Alderman seat will cost over $30,000 in donations. All of that to win a job you might not get, and ultimately to get a job that doesn’t pay you enough to live in the community you aim to serve.

It takes an enormous amount of privilege and dedication to run for office. Ultimately, I want to level the playing field so that this isn’t the case – through campaign finance reform, improved affordability in the city, and state funded elections – but in order to do so, we need people who demand change to RUN and WIN.

I have to RUN because no one else has been willing to stand up and demand electoral change for 15 years in Ward 2.
I have to RUN because I have been blessed with enormous good fortune in my life, and am in a position where I can devote the time and energy to do so.

But I have to WIN because we desperately need to change the way the world works.

I have to WIN because being a Sanctuary City doesn’t matter if the people who need Sanctuary can’t afford to live here.
I have to WIN because more of my neighbors are being pushed out of Somerville every year.
I have to WIN because the people of Somerville deserve to have their voices heard and heeded by their elected representatives, not ignored.
I have to WIN because the only way any of us can be safe is when all of us are safe.

So I’m asking you to help me win. Please come out to the kickoff event – and please make a donation to my campaign.
Together, we can change the world – starting right here in Somerville.

Every Family is Different, and the Same

Somerville is home to enormous diversity. Our school system reports that over 50 languages are spoken by the families of Somerville. Eu não falo português, mas estou tentando.

I grew up in a place where I didn’t hear another language spoken besides English until I was 14 years old. I’m glad my daughter is growing up in Somerville and will be surrounded by other languages. (If you meet her, try her Italian – it’s not bad.)

Our enormous diversity doesn’t end with languages, though. Families in Somerville take many different forms, and I’m glad to be meeting them throughout Ward 2.

I grew up in a place where a family was often defined as one man, one woman, and the kids. But even then, even with that narrative, it wasn’t that simple in reality. Family was whatever you needed to make it work in a small town.

Maybe it was mom and dad and the kids, but just as often it also included an uncle or an aunt that couldn’t live on their own. Or the grandparents you were taking care of living in the house with you. Or the cousins that moved in for years because their parents were away and couldn’t care for them. Or the aunts and uncles who moved in to help take care of the kids and the farm.

Reality is complicated, life is hard, and it’s vital to be good to each other. It’s important to accept each other.

Here in Somerville families are sometimes two dads and their child. Sometimes it’s two elderly sisters living together as they have for 30 years. Or two women and a child, along with the friend who lives with them sharing the duties of cooking, paying the rent, and picking up the kids from their after school activities. Or three generations of relatives in all sorts of configurations filling a triple-decker. Or a collective of artists and therapists raising their children in a cooperative home.

All over Somerville, family is more than who gave birth to whom. Family is who we surround ourselves with, the people we love who are an indelible part of our lives, the people who make us whole and help each other through the years.

Each and every family has value. I’m glad that many of these are protected and recognized by domestic partnership laws and the legality of gay marriage, but beyond legal recognition it’s important to say that each family is unique and welcome here.

I steadfastly support the right of every family, regardless of makeup, to pursue life, liberty, and happiness here in Somerville.

Union United Press Conference Remarks

On Thursday, April 20th Union United held a press conference in front of the offices of US2. I was honored to be invited to speak there with Rep. Denise Provost, Rep. Mike Connolly, and Ward 3 Alderman Candidate Ben Ewen-Campen. The following is the text of my remarks.

My name is JT Scott; I live just around the corner in the big purple house on Washington St and I operate a business here in the square. I am a candidate for Ward 2 Alderman. That’s not a sentence I thought I’d ever say. But I’ve felt compelled to run because of the lack of transparency I’ve seen in this development process, and how critical it is to get the details right– so that we end up with development that works for the community and doesn’t sideline or ignore our stake in Union Square.

I stand here in solidarity with my neighbors who are facing displacement by rampant gentrification and outrageous increases in their rent, real estate taxes, and utility bills. I stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in the labor movement, who see once again massive development with no assurance that Union labor will be used in its construction. And I stand here in solidarity with my neighbor on School Street who is fighting to keep her family of 4 in their 1 bedroom apartment because there isn’t enough affordable housing for them in Somerville.

For the past five years I’ve attended endless meetings with my neighbors here in Ward 2 and Ward 3 about the coming development and heard countless concerns. We have provided input in public hearings, submitted reams of written comment, participated in design reviews and various mayorally appointed committees with no binding authority. In every case this input vanishes into a black hole, only to see us presented months later with a new plan from the city pushing the process forward – one that often ignores the feedback from the community.

This murky process has not resulted in a plan for responsible development. The City’s privately negotiated agreements fall far short of ensuring timely commercial development while clearing the way for a 20+ story luxury apartment tower in the heart of our square. The City’s agreements fall far short of ensuring adequate public green and open space to match the vision produced in community meetings. The City’s agreements fail to ensure that any jobs created in the development will pay a living wage to their employees.

And the City’s agreements fail to provide sufficient protection for the taxpayers who are being asked to bear the burden of immense investment in our infrastructure to support this development and who will live literally in its shadow for years to come.

Deals negotiated behind closed doors by our mayor are not sufficient to provide transparency and accountability in development, and have not proved sufficient to ensure development that benefits the community. We need to be partners in the decisions that will shape our neighborhood for generations to come. We need to do better.

And that’s why I’m standing here with our community and some of our elected representatives: to ask that we do better. I call on the mayor to cease pushing relentlessly forward for a plan that doesn’t leave adequate room for residents to negotiate directly on their own behalf while there is still room to negotiate. The people who live and work in the square should have a voice in how it is developed. I call on the Board of Aldermen and the Somerville Redevelopment Authority to stand firm and ensure that the zoning for Union Square reflects the needs of the residents before transferring ownership of this land seized by eminent domain into private hands. And I call on US2 to begin meeting directly with the Union Square Neighborhood Council immediately to begin the process of negotiating a real, lasting, and legally binding Community Benefits Agreement.

Let’s be clear: We need to act, and soon. Development is badly needed in Somerville. We need more commercial space, we need more affordable housing, we need more green & open spaces. We need to help this city to grow while making sure it works for everyone in the community.

But we don’t need to rush into a bad deal that drops a tower of luxury apartments into the square without a plan that ensures a bright future for all of our neighbors. US2 can go back to Chicago after all’s said and done, but we are going to have to live with the consequences of this development.

We are at the threshold of decisions that will create generational change in Union Square. We are better off as a neighborhood, as a city, and as a society when we can work together to create outcomes that uplift all of us, instead of just the 1%.

Thank you.

What Difference Does Commercial Development Make? Part 1: Taxes

Out there in the streets, I’ve been listening to a lot of you. Outside of the fact that very few of you are interested in living next to a 20+ story tower of luxury apartments, even fewer of you are interested in renting a Studio apartment there for $2500/month. Not too many of us that live here are excited by the ongoing march of luxury upgrades and renovations forcing us from our existing housing.

One thing that has come up a lot though is a desire for more commercial development in Somerville. But why does commercial real estate matter?

The bottom line for the city is: taxes. Commercial property is taxed at a much higher rate than residences. A quick look at the Somerville Assessor’s Office page shows that the tax rates for commercial properties are $18.81, versus $11.67 for residential, per $1,000 value.

But that’s not the only difference. Homes (including multifamily buildings where the owner occupies at least one of the units) are eligible for a residential exemption. That means $235,399 of the houses value is exempt from taxation – which saves every homeowner $2,747 per year in taxes.

What that all adds up to is a big difference for the city’s coffers. How big?

$500,000 condo: $3,087 annual taxes
$500,000 store: $9,405 annual taxes

$800,000 condo: $6,589 annual taxes
$800,000 office: $15,048 annual taxes

In short, every commercial space brings the city 3x the revenue of every residential space.

This is why commercial development matters – it can reduce the burden of the city’s budget which now falls almost entirely on homeowners. It’s no accident that Somerville residents pay twice the taxes that our neighbors in Cambridge pay – and have less residential exemption as well.

With more commercial development, we can stop the relentless residential property tax increases the city has planned for us. We can keep seniors on fixed incomes in their homes. We can keep rents from endlessly escalating on families and young adults alike.

With enough commercial development, we can meet all the city’s immense financial burdens – and we can even provide a benevolent landlord credit to encourage affordable rents in our neighborhood.

We can do better. Insisting on commercial development instead of endless luxury condo construction is a big part of how we can keep housing affordable in Somerville.

J.T. Scott Announces Run For Ward 2 Alderman’s Seat

J.T. Scott Announces Run For Ward 2 Alderman’s Seat

Somerville, MA – March 9, 2017 – Community activist and local business owner Jefferson Thomas (“JT”) Scott announced his candidacy for Ward 2 Alderman today. JT is running on a platform of affordability, responsible development growth, government accountability, and increased wellness for all residents.

“We need to ensure that development benefits the community instead of only enriching the developers,” said Scott. “Change is coming to Ward 2, and we have to work together to make certain that the Somerville we love has a place for all of us.”

As an active part of the public process around development in Union Square, including the formation of the Union Square Neighborhood Council and serving as vice-chair of Union Square Neighbors, JT has been fighting for better neighborhood planning for years. “We must be vigilant and engaged if we want better outcomes from development in Somerville,” said Scott. “I believe our Aldermen should represent the residents and fight for our shared values.” To that end, he has declared that he will not be accepting campaign contributions from real estate developers.

Affordability in the City is especially important to JT. Since moving to Somerville and opening his business here in 2011, he’s seen many of his friends and neighbors forced to move out to surrounding suburbs by the rising costs in Somerville. In addition, as a business owner and Board Member of Union Square Main Streets, he sees just how hard it is for other local businesses being pressured by rent hikes on their small shops – and how those pressures result in higher prices for customers.

“I’ve been very fortunate to be able to secure a home for my family and my business, but most people in Ward 2 don’t have that assurance. Rising property taxes increase costs for renters and homeowners alike,” Scott said. “We have to take a comprehensive approach to resolving the City’s financial issues to ensure that the burdens don’t fall entirely on our residents. We also must enact smart policies that enable small businesses to start, grow, and remain in Somerville providing tax revenues for the city and good jobs for the neighbors.”

Increasing wellness in the community is also a priority for JT. As proprietor of CrossFit Somerville he works with neighborhood residents daily on improving their health and quality of life, but says the issue is larger than push-ups and pull-ups. “Real wellness requires more than strength. We need a community with more green and open public spaces, improved public transportation, reduced pollution, increased bike/walk accommodation, and an array of options for our schoolchildren and elders alike.”

JT will have an official campaign kickoff event in April, but for now he says he’ll be continuing to do what he’s done for the past 6 years: listen to his neighbors and work together with them on the issues facing Ward 2. “I’m not a career politician. What I do have are new ideas, a new perspective, and years of experience working with large and diverse groups of people to find innovative, collaborative, and workable solutions to seemingly impossible challenges.”

To find out more about JT Scott and his campaign you can visit his web site at or follow on Facebook:

We’re Just Getting Started

Somerville is the place we call home. We want to make it better.

We see the best future of Union Square: a thriving, engaged, enjoyable, inclusive, sustainable, diverse urban neighborhood with a vibrant commercial center.

We want to foster strong relationships and a sense of belonging among members of the neighborhood.
We want to get you involved: we want to increase the agency of community members to effectively advocate for your interests.
We want to minimize displacement of residents and businesses and promote residential and commercial affordability.
We want to increase opportunities for economic prosperity for residents and businesses.

We need to work together to ensure that the Somerville we love has a place for all of us. We need to work together to make sure Somerville sustains us as we strive to live, work, and play here.

We’re just getting started. Come on over and talk to us about how we can help.