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 www.JTforWard2.com or follow on Facebook: facebook.com/JTforWard2

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.