Artist Displacement: a letter from Ward 2

I received this letter last night from a resident of Ward 2 that I met a few months back while knocking on doors for the campaign. He’s a kind and warm artist – a great neighbor, and part of what makes Somerville amazing and beautiful.

Hello JT,

Remember me?

Since we met in the Spring, I’ve had a sadly typical Somerville experience: my lease ends on July 31 and my landlady won’t renew my lease; she’s going to flip the apartment, jack the rent, and get new tenants in here.

The current rent on this 2-bedroom apartment is $1,650.00. The realtor convinced my landlady to raise this to $2,200! Some lucky couple will get to pay that amount for the realtor fee, plus their first and last month’s rent. 

I don’t have $6,600 on hand to keep my apartment so I’m being displaced. A friend in Arlington is letting me stay with her for a couple of months. After that, I’m not certain I’ll stay in town. I need time to ponder this.

Somerville needs rent control. The city needs to provide housing that creative people can afford. So many friends have been driven out to Watertown and Arlington. Or Plymouth, New Bedford, and Providence, RI.

I hope very much that you can get elected. I hope very much that when you do, you will do something about the obscene housing market in Somerville. PorchFest is a cute celebration of our artist community. What about the rest of the year? I’m not feeling the love from City Hall.

This is what people are facing all over the city – as he says, an all too typical experience. We have to do better to keep Somerville’s residents in their homes and make it affordable for all of us to live here.

This is why I’m running. This is why I need your help to get elected.

Can you help him find an affordable apartment in Ward 2? Get in touch. Can you help me get elected so that I can fight for all of us? Get in touch. We have to work together to make this happen.

Real Ideas for Fighting Displacement Part 1: Right-of-First-Refusal

I find over and over as I knock on doors and talk to voters that people yearn for ways to fight the wave of gentrification in Somerville. They are scared of being displaced, or have already been displaced before and fear not being able to find a place if forced to move again. Finally, there’s a lot of fatalism around gentrification: “What can we do?”

I’ve heard that same fatalism from city officials, and quite frankly that’s disappointing. The fact is that there are many things we can try to keep residents from being displaced.

I’ve written at length here before about the benefits of commercial development and the carry-through effects of reducing residential real estate taxes, and thankfully that message seems to be heard at the city level. I still don’t think we’re doing enough to encourage commercial development instead of luxury residential, but at least it’s being heard.

What I’m not hearing are innovative ideas for how to keep residents here in Somerville. Fortunately, I’ve got more than a few of those that I’d like to implement. The first one I’ll write about in this blog is implementing a Right-of-First-Refusal law here in Somerville.

What is “Right-of-First-Refusal”?

Put simply, ROFR is a law that says that tenants in a building have a fair chance to purchase that building if the owner is seeking to sell it.

All too often in Somerville, when a property goes up for sale the timeline looks like this:

  1. Property lists on Thursday.
  2. Open House on Saturday.
  3. Cash offer buys the house on Monday at noon.
  4. Tenants are immediately displaced, construction crews arrive to start renovating the property to luxury standards.

This process doesn’t leave much room for regular working families to buy a house even if they’re in the market already with a pre-approved mortgage in hand. For tenants in a building that is getting sold who are caught by surprise, there’s no room at all.

That’s where a ROFR law comes in to help: if a building is offered for sale, the tenants get a window of time in which they can match that asking price (market price) and come up with financing to buy it.

Maybe the tenants can get a mortgage on their own. Maybe they can get family to help. Maybe in a multi-unit building the tenants can form a co-op and finance it together to purchase their homes. Maybe they can get assistance from the neighborhood’s Community Land Trust. (More on this particular concept is coming in part 2 of this series.)

Regardless, the result is that tenants have a fair chance to buy the building they currently rent and live in, preventing displacement from the neighborhood and increasing home ownership in Somerville.

Did you know? Only 20% of residents in the Union Square area own their homes. This is targeted to reduce to 12% after the completion of the Union Square Revitalization Plan.

Implementing a Right-of-First-Refusal law

This is not a new and untested concept. Washington DC has had a law of this kind since 1980, and it has been effective in reducing displacement and increasing opportunities for homeownership. There are some problems with how that particular law (TOPA) is written, and I’ll be proposing specific language for this ordinance that prevents assigning ROFR rights to non-tenants and which clearly defines tenants as people who have signed leases in place, but the long track record of ROFR laws in Washington and other cities will allow us to craft a thoughtful and effective ordinance that does what we intend it to do.

The Board of Aldermen has the authority to pass a ROFR law here in Somerville, and if elected I intend to make it a priority to get one through the Committee on Legislative Affairs and brought to a vote. I look forward to working with the skilled lawyers already on the Board to help craft a fair and resilient law that benefits all Somerville residents.

Questions about Right-of-First-Refusal

As I talk to neighborhood residents here in Ward 2, both homeowners and tenants rightfully have questions about how this kind of law would impact them. Here’s a few of those that I’ve heard:

Q: Would this limit how much I could sell my property for, as a property owner?

A: No.  If anything, it will make pricing properties a more realistic proposition. Under a ROFR law, a property owner is free to place whatever asking price they want on their property. The tenants simply have the first shot at matching that asking price. If the tenants decline, the property goes onto the open market and the usual bidding war can commence.

Q: How much time would I have as a tenant to buy the house?

A: This varies based on the actual text of the ROFR law, but I’d be inclined to suggest a 30 day period to sign a Letter of Intent for tenants to match the seller’s asking price. That should be enough time for tenants to explore their options and decide to begin the purchase process. After that, there would be statutory limits on time to negotiate the terms of the sale and secure financing for the transaction. If the process falls through, the property would just go on the open market.

Q: Would this program cost the city of Somerville any money?

A: Absolutely not. This is not a subsidy, nor is it a process the city is required to monitor or enforce. It would be a law governing certain specifics of real estate transactions, and like other such laws would just become part of the process that realtors and real estate lawyers help both sellers and buyers navigate all the time.

Q: Would this program slow down the process of selling my house, as a homeowner?

A: If you have tenants in your property, yes – and it is intended to do that. If you are selling a condo or single family home you live in, the law won’t impact you at all.

Q: What happens in the event of an off-market offer (also known as a private sale)?

A: The process would trigger when the official private offer was made to sell the property. That price offered by a private buyer would become the market price which the tenants would have an opportunity to match.

Q: Would this keep me from handing my house down to my children and grandchildren?

A: No. The law as I envision it would allow you to pass ownership of your home to your descendants.

Q: Would this process actually prevent displacement and slow gentrification?

A: ROFR laws have been shown to be quite effective and protecting tenants and stabilizing neighborhoods.

Do you have more questions about Right-of-First-Refusal laws, how they work, and how they would impact Somerville?

If so, please shoot me a note at or post to the comments below. I’ll be glad to hear your ideas and talk more about how this simple tool can help ensure that Somerville has a home for all of us!

Pride Day

I am queer. I am proud.

I am a white man. I own a business. I took my daughter to swim class this morning. I am a candidate for local office. And I am still queer.

Pride is in knowing who you are and being willing to be seen as such. Not unafraid – because fear is real and frequently both justified and wise – but willing to proclaim your self and your right to exist.

Our Pride tells everyone else around us that it’s okay to be whoever they are, however they are.

Pride, as a day, is the celebration of a riot at Stonewall led by POC and trans people who refused to be bullied or silenced. Ever since, the queer community has celebrated that riot by taking to the streets.

No matter how many corporate banks or establishment politicians join marches or sponsor events, the essence of the day is in the Pride of the queers who throng to celebrate their existence and the riot of colors, shapes, and sizes that honor that act of Resistance at Stonewall.

I’ve had a long history of LGBTQ rights advocacy. It’s part of who I am, but it’s also an indelible part of my belief that we should all be free to pursue love, employment, and the rest of our daily lives without discrimination or harassment.

I don’t say it out loud every day, but on Pride I do: I am queer. And regardless of what flavor of queer we are, your journey is important, my journey is important, our existence is important.

Skin in the Game: A Risk Assessment Story of Somerville and Union Square

Many years ago, we were promised that an exclusive sweetheart deal with FRIT would bring jobs and commercial development to Somerville in Assembly Row. The much needed commercial development would go on this large plot of open land the city controlled, bringing tax revenue to relieve the burden on homeowners and renters.

10 years later, Somerville has invested significantly in infrastructure in Assembly and has renegotiated the sweetheart deal with FRIT twice – in FRIT’s favor – and we still haven’t seen the promised commercial development. FRIT has managed to build plenty of luxury apartment housing and retail, but only two office buildings.

The larger of those two buildings, for Partners Health, pays no taxes to the city.

This plan was pushed by the mayor’s office, the developer, and the planning department as crucial for bringing commercial development to the city. 10 years later, we’re still waiting for what was promised.


Now it’s 2017 and Union Square is the new Assembly Row. Another massive developer and another set of sweetheart deals from the city are being pushed on us as being critical for commercial development in Somerville. And the pressure is on the Board of Aldermen to pass the zoning that constitutes their final approval of this plan.

But once again, it’s a set of deals that doesn’t prioritize timely commercial development, and doesn’t provide guarantees  needed to protect the city’s finances and the residents ultimately responsible for the taxes.


Who has skin in this game? It’s easy to count what the city has at stake.

Since beginning the Union Square process, the city has taken on nearly $300 MILLION in new debt obligations – much of which is directly enabling this development.

These debt obligations are already happening and the city starts racking up interest fees immediately, whereas the buildings we hope to see result from them may never arrive. The revenue to repay them must come from taxes on the new development – and as have seen in Assembly Square that may take a long time, or never come at all – or from us, the residents left holding the bag.

By contrast, what does the Developer have to lose?

The Developer has no up-front financial obligations to the city. The only payments they have committed amount to less than $10 per square foot they get to build – and only paid as they actually build the properties over the course of 30 years.

(In contrast, a small medical marijuana distributor in Davis Square is contributing over $100 per square foot in community benefits payments – and all within 3 years. Source: )

Pictured here: the 27 story luxury apartment tower designed for Union Square. Has anyone shown you this picture before?

The Developer has no obligation to create commercial space. In fact, according to the current agreements in place they can build nearly 400 luxury 1-bedroom and studio units in a 27-story luxury high-rise in Union Square (and 80 affordable housing units, somewhere) and then walk away, leaving the city holding the bag for all of the other costs.

If the developer wants to build more luxury residential and retail, the story gets even better for them: all the city is currently requiring of them is one small office building before they get back to dominating the skyline and neighborhood with as much luxury residential as the zoning allows – which at this point is nearly 1000 units, total.

That lonely office building isn’t required to be built until years after the Green Line extension arrives… and we know how long we’ve been waiting for that.

And as for future risk? The deals contain all sorts of protections and clawbacks for the developer that insulate them from future cost increases or payments to the city. They even get to purchase the parcels seized by eminent domain at the city’s cost. We will be stuck with the terms of this deal, non-negotiably, for 30 years.


As in Assembly Row, the city is telling us to trust the developer’s good faith and financial interest to bring us commercial buildings, jobs, and tax revenue. As in Assembly Row, there are no guarantees in place to ensure we get them. And as in Assembly Row, the Board of Aldermen are being pressured to rush approval of this process.

Worst of all: the city has not even prepared a financial impact study of what all these costs mean to the city’s finances, and how long it will take for this proposed development to start bringing revenue into the city to give residents some relief on their taxes and rents.

Last night, Katjana Ballantyne (Ward 7 Alderman) asked for this analysis and was told by the city that it doesn’t exist. Tonight, she and the other Alderman are being asked to vote to approve this plan and zoning anyway.

This is a sweetheart deal that hasn’t been publicized to the residents of Somerville, hasn’t had proper scrutiny, isn’t negotiated to benefit the community, and is being rushed far in advance of the customary 90 day review process allowed of all zoning. Most of all, it’s a deal designed by the developer and endorsed by the mayor – not structured by our aldermen and endorsed by the residents.

Some of our Aldermen have been fighting hard to get answers to these risk questions and get guarantees that protect us, the residents. Notably, Katjana Ballantyne (Ward 7), Mark Niedergang (Ward 5), and Matt McLaughlin (Ward 1) have been working to amend the zoning to address neighborhood concerns – and I thank them for their efforts. All of the Aldermen have been in meetings this week and last that went until after midnight debating this proposal as we in Somerville wait and watch from the outside.


The deal is being improved with every late night of work by the aldermen, but there’s a long way to go before we get something that’s right for Somerville.

Alderman Katjana Ballantyne said it well last night:

We can’t keep kicking the can down the road to generate more revenue. Priority is commercial office development. It about the people who live here in Somerville now.

Jobs and tax relief will come when we have office space for new businesses to locate here. New businesses in turn will provide new jobs here and new commercial tax revenues to help us pay for schools, roads, police, fireman and all of the things that we now pay for as residents, almost all alone.

There has been no fiscal analysis to support the developer’s position since the city tripled its debt obligations.”

Now, with less than 40 days of consideration, our aldermen are being pressured into a vote that leaves all of the risk on the City of Somerville and its residents while handing over the keys to the future of Union Square to a developer with no skin in the game.

I encourage the aldermen to hold the line and give this zoning its full and proper time for consideration. I believe that there is no need to rush into a deal – with incomplete information – that will bind the city and its residents for the next 30 years.


Love to the mothers, and to those who choose not to be. Love to those who are trying to become mothers, and love to those who can’t. Much love to those who are finding the ways to be mothers in nontraditional ways.

Love to those whose mothers supported and sustained them, and to those who needed to leave in order to be healthy and safe. Your mothers all did their best, and I hope we can support each other to do better with every generation.

Love to my mother, and the mother of my child, and everyone who’s thinking of their mothers today.


My mother worked hard to raise me right in a rough situation. She dropped out of college when she became pregnant and spent the rest of her life dedicated to her family. She eventually went back after 15 years to finish her degree part-time and was proud of her education, but her passion was always her husband, children, and grandchildren. She was an artist, quilter, crafter, and master of all the small and large things it takes to keep a home and a family together through some very tough times.

Not everyone is as lucky as I was. Not everyone gets to have a mother for as long as they need, and not everyone’s mother does as well as they’d like. I meet mothers every day in Ward 2 who are struggling to make it all work; it’s not easy. We don’t do enough to support women – from medical care to paid maternal leave – and help all those who make the choice to become mothers be the best mothers they can be.

That’s one reason why I feel blessed to have a partner who is a spectacularly strong woman herself. The mother of my child is an artist and businesswoman, yes – and also an observant, patient, kind, and wise woman who supports me in my endeavors and is helping to raise our daughter to be strong, inquisitive, unafraid, and independent. As I’ve said many times, my life doesn’t work without her. I’m honored to work with her and support her in every way I can.

My own mother died in 2013, and I miss her all the time. I only have so many ways to tell Indy who her grandmother was, but I can honor her legacy best by doing all I can to be a good parent and support Indy’s mother.

I have been blessed to be supported and surrounded by incredible women my entire life – and am grateful for the efforts of not just the mothers, but all women working to make the world a better place for this generation and the ones who come after.

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.