May 20 2018 Ward 2 Newsletter

After another eventful month, here’s another Ward 2 newsletter!

ACCOUNTABILITY
Appointments Manual Draft in Review
Clarendon Hill Development Should Be Held to High Standards
New Engineering Positions Leading to Increased Oversight

TRANSPARENCY
Public Hearings This Week
Zoning Overhaul Update

AFFORDABILITY
“Developer Tax” Approved
Community Land Trust Tax Force Forming
Victory for Tenants at Millbrook Apartments

LOCAL MEETING ROUNDUP
Memorial Week Events
Development – 515 Somerville Ave

PERSONAL UPDATE
House Fire in Ward 2

ACCOUNTABILITY

Appointments Manual Draft in Review

I wrote at length in the previous newsletter about the process we’re undergoing to reform the Appointments and Confirmation process, and am pleased to report that we have delivered to the administration our draft “manual” – expectations as a Board of the information needed to review candidates for Appointment and Promotion. We’re still awaiting the administration’s official response, but look forward to working with them to ensure that the process is transparent and comprehensive. Somerville deserves to know that your public servants are being properly considered by your elected representatives.

We do have an extensive backlog of appointments to consider, and have provided a schedule that will ensure that the most critical positions are considered quickly once the administration provides the requested materials for review.

Clarendon Hill Development Should Be Held to High Standards

In Ward 7, the Clarendon Hill public housing project is 70 years old and failing its residents, who are currently suffering in horrible conditions. It is time for us to step up as a city and state to renovate this housing and fulfill our commitment to the residents of this housing project.

Currently before the Board is a Home Rule Petition that would allow the city and state to effectively sell 2 acres of public land to a private developer and allow them to build 253 luxury apartment units on the site, using the proceeds to help fund a portion of the reconstruction of the Clarendon Hill public housing units that currently sit there. (It is technically a 99-year renewable and assignable land lease – functionally a sale.) While an argument can be made that this is a responsible way to obtain funding to renovate public housing units, the problem (as usual) is in the further details of this deal.

In this deal, a perversion of the intent of our state affordable housing law (MGL 40B) is being used to justify a reduction in the number of affordable housing units built in the luxury for-profit apartment buildings in a deal reminiscent of the shameful FRIT Assembly Row “compromise”. Of the 278 privately-built units planned at Clarendon Hill, only 25 would be subsidized and affordable – a far cry from the 55 units required by our 20% Affordable Housing law.

In addition, this Home Rule Petition would allow the private developer to avoid the responsibility to pay prevailing wage standards for the construction labor on their project. As a project only being made possible by the agreement to use public land for a private for-profit development, I find this to be extremely difficult to justify.

We have an obligation to hew to our principles. We have failed the residents of Clarendon Hill by failing to maintain this public housing in good condition, and as the state and federal government continue to retreat from this duty we as a City are prepared to step forward. However, it is just as important that we maintain our commitment to economic justice for workers – sacrificing fair wages and labor standards should not be part of the bargain.

We have been told at the Board that this private developer – and the banks that will profit from the financing of their project – have immovable constraints based on their expected profit margins. It is beyond time that we treat fair wage and labor standards with as much reverence as we treat corporate profits.

It is my earnest hope that we can work together to find a path forward that restores the public housing at Clarendon Hill in a way that does not sacrifice one principle for another. If this private developer fails to do so, I fully expect to call upon our mayor to step up and provide the necessary funding to move forward with the reconstruction of this public housing project using the funds promised (and still undelivered) from his disastrous FRIT Assembly Row deal.

New Engineering Position Leading to Increased Oversight

With construction season in full swing and impacting ward 2 heavily on Beacon Street and in Union Square, in addition to several other projects by Eversource on Preston St and paving on Bolton St, there’s a lot of construction to keep track of. Thankfully, longtime DPW employee Jesse Moos has been promoted recently to the newly created Construction Liaison & Compliance Manager position in the city’s engineering department.

You’ll see Jesse a lot in Ward 2 with his clipboard and cheerful attitude, as he’s down here almost daily monitoring the construction and keeping businesses informed as to closures and outages that will affect them. He’s also in charge of making sure we don’t have any more “heavy-equipment-til-11pm” fiascos on Beacon Street.

You can reach him with questions or complaints about road or utility work at jmoos@somervillema.gov. I’m glad to see him on the job and providing more accountability on these city projects.

TRANSPARENCY

Public Hearings This Week

We have a full schedule of Public Hearings this week at City Hall. These are chances for you to come out and let the Board and administration know your thoughts on a variety of issues we are considering.

MONDAY MAY 21 @ 6pm – Legislative Matters Public Hearing on Clarendon Hill redevelopment
As described above, a Public Hearing on the Home Rule Petition that would allow for the sale of public land to a private developer, waiver of their affordable housing requirements, and waiver of requirement for that developer to follow public procurement and prevailing wage laws will be held.

TUESDAY MAY 22 @ 6pm – Finance Committee Public Hearing on Somerville’s School Nurses
Thanks to this mayor’s inability to reach an agreement with the Somerville Municipal Employee Association union, Somerville’s School Nurses have not received appropriate raises in many years. As a result, we have lost nearly half of the dedicated nurses that have served our children in Somerville schools.

This untenable situation cannot continue. The mayor’s proposal to resolve it is to remove the school nurses from being general city employees and place them instead under the control of the School Department as non-union positions. This move would potentially allow the hiring of new nurses to replace the ones we have lost, at the cost of further undermining the union’s already weak bargaining position.

You can read the request here (http://somervillecityma.iqm2.com/Citizens/Detail_LegiFile.aspx?Frame=&MeetingID=2618&MediaPosition=&ID=18220&CssClass=) and speak at the public hearing on Tuesday night at City Hall to let us know how you think we should vote on this issue.

THURSDAY MAY 24 @ 7pm – PILOT public hearing
Somerville’s “Payment In Lieu Of Taxes” (PILOT) agreement with Tufts University is expiring. Each year Somerville loses over $6.7 Million in tax revenue that the university would otherwise pay for their property in the city. In exchange, we have in the past agreed to receive a paltry $275,000 annual payment from the University.

Obviously, this is just 4 percent – a far cry from the 25 percent that the City of Boston receives from Tufts University in their similar PILOT agreement. The Board of Aldermen is hosting a public hearing so that you can tell us what you think about the PILOT agreement our mayor negotiated with Tufts this Thursday night.

Zoning Overhaul Update

There has been a lot of debate in the Aldermanic Chambers about the proposed zoning overhaul. As budget season approaches, it looks like we’ll be setting it aside for the time being and returning to it in the Fall for another look.

We held several public hearings about the zoning which were very well attended. The issue of eliminating triple-deckers and limiting most neighborhoods to two-family houses was a topic of much conversation, among many other issues. The presence of new “Fabrication” zoning to protect innovative startup-and-studio spaces for small business creation has also been a real emphasis in the current proposal.

While public comment on the current version expires on May 25th, the planning department will be taking all those comments in, revising the plan, and proposing a new version in the fall. It is my hope that we’ll be able to put important anti-displacement protections in place prior to passing a zoning overhaul to ensure that current residents will be able to remain in our neighborhood as it grows and changes.

AFFORDABILITY

“Developer Tax” Approved

The Board of Aldermen voted this week in a Committee-of-the-Whole meeting of Legislative Matters to approve a final version of the Real Estate Transfer Fee, also known as a “Developer Tax”. This would be a 1% fee on absentee landlords and corporate developers who are seeking to buy or sell properties in the city. (All owner-occupants are exempted from ever paying this tax.)

The fee will be paid directly into the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, which will then be able to use it to fund “limited equity arrangements, community land trusts, purpose-built housing, and other programs to underwrite the affordability of properties with a preference […] for current and recent Somerville residents and employees.”

There were over $700 million in property sales last year alone in Somerville, and this is a way for us to capture a small amount of our runaway market and use those dollars to help fun much needed programs to stabilize current residents in housing long-term and increase homeownership in our city.

The next step will be for this item to be approved formally this Thursday and sent to the State House for approval there, before returning to Somerville for drafting the details of the final ordinance. Thank you for your discussion, comments, and engagement during this process!

Community Land Trust Tax Force Forming

I’m very excited to announce that a task force is being assembled by the administration to explore the best structure for a Community Land Trust here in Somerville. I’ve written about and advocated for this extensively, and this is a great next step.

I’ll be serving on this task force, and am glad to say that Ward 3 Alderman Ewen-Campen has been selected to co-chair this important effort. With all the work on my plate, I can use all the help I can get! I look forward to getting rolling with this Task Force soon, and coming forward with a clear direction to get started with this vital, community-controlled affordable housing initiative.

Victory for Tenants at Millbrook Apartments

I was happy to speak at Rep Mike Connolly’s campaign kickoff event last week, and tell the story there of our victory at Millbrook Apartments. The largest apartment building in Ward 2, it was completed just 2 years ago. Now the 100 rental units there have been proposed for condo conversion – the largest such in Somerville. Thanks to the efforts of the tenant organizers and Rep Connolly, we were able to fight back against this mass displacement and ensure that residents got their concerns addressed.

Today I can tell you that every low-income subsidized housing tenant (20 units in total) will be able to retain their housing permanently instead of being displaced. Today, I can tell you that every market-rate tenant will be receiving moving expenses plus $10,000 cash compensation from the developer for being displaced.

This is a massive victory – the kind that comes only when we all work together. Even better, it paves the way for a new Condo Conversion Ordinance in this city that will protect residents in the future and slow down the constant stream of condo conversions that plague our neighborhoods. I hope that we’ll be able to put an ordinance on the mayor’s desk for signature before the end of 2018.

LOCAL MEETING ROUNDUP

Memorial Week Events

I was glad to attend the 2018 Somerville Heroes Salute at the Holiday Inn on Saturday honoring fallen veterans, and the American Legion Post 18 Veterans’ Ceremony this Sunday morning placing flowers and wreaths at each of the monuments lining Highland Ave. Both events were well run and the Heroes Salute was particularly well attended.

My father retired a Colonel in the USMC and was a decorated combat veteran in Vietnam who is buried in Arlington, and my family has a long history of military service – I particularly understand that these ceremonies are important remembrances for the families of veterans. Unfortunately, the city cancelled the Memorial Day Parade originally scheduled for this afternoon due to inclement weather forecast.

There will be one more event this week, on Wednesday night May 23rd. Titled “Honor and Remembrance: A City Remembers” and held at the Veterans’ Memorial Cemetery (located on Broadway across from Clarendon Hill Towers), this is a 1 hour ceremony. At the end of the day, the gathering will call the roll of the 69 heroes interred in this cemetery as a way to acknowledging that Somerville never forgets its heroes. As each name is called, a bell chimes and a flag is placed at the grave and a candle is placed alongside the name that particular hero. (A committee meeting I am chairing was previously scheduled for this evening, so I will not be able to attend personally.)

Development – 515 Somerville Ave

I was as surprised as many of you to receive a flyer for a neighborhood meeting this Wednesday May 23rd at 6pm in the St. Anthony’s Community Room at 12 Properzi Way to discuss a proposed development at 515 Somerville Ave.

Most of you know this site as the empty lot across from Rite-Aid on Somerville Ave, formerly targeted for eminent domain as a site for a new fire station. The owner has a new proposal at the planning department which you can see here ( https://www.somervillema.gov/sites/default/files/Plan%20Set%203-9-18%20(reduced).pdf ).

Unfortunately, I am chairing a committee meeting that night, and all of the other local aldermen (Hirsch and Ewen-Campen) will also be in that committee. It is my hope that another neighborhood meeting will also be scheduled so that we can attend and hear the neighbors’ feedback on the plan. In the meantime, please do feel free to send me an email to let me know what you think about the proposal.

PERSONAL UPDATE

House Fire in Ward 2: Many of you are aware of the fire on Washington Street just outside of Union Square on May 2. I was at City Hall having a meeting about environmental protection and Conway Park when I got the call that my house was on fire.

Thanks to the quick action of the Somerville Fire Department – with special thanks to Ward 2 resident Fire Lieutenant Blanca Alcarez who was first on the scene – the fire was extinguished before it took the entire house. None of my family were home, and no one was harmed in the fire. The cause was determined to be a spontaneous trash fire due to some rags used to wipe down furniture with Linseed Oil. (I’ve learned a lot about Linseed Oil recently!)

Over the past 3 weeks I’ve been working with insurance and the Inspectional Services Department to ensure that the structure was sound, and am glad to announce after a period of homelessness that my family is able to return to our house. Be it ever so soggy-and-somewhat-charred, there’s no place like home.

Everyone knows someone who has been through a house fire, and it’s an unsettling experience. Many thanks to the community members and friends who reached out over the last few weeks and opened their homes to my family to give us a place to stay while we were displaced. Reconstruction will be a long process, but at least we can stay in our home during the repairs.

I’ll be having office hours this Friday at Brickbottom, and hope to return to my regularly scheduled Office Hours each Friday from 8-10am at 269 Washington Street starting in June.

Thanks for reading!

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