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%.