2021 Campaign Platform
These are the things I'm focused on accomplishing in the next term.
I'm proud to have helped create the Somerville Community Land Trust in 2018. It's a powerful tool for removing housing from the private market and creating permanent affordability through deed-restricted covenants, and return control of what gets built to the neighborhood and residents, instead of developers. I'm proud of approving the Real Estate Transfer Fee, which will fund more affordable housing creation if we can get it approved at the State House. I'm proud to have been part of the creation of the Office of Housing Stability, and worked to increase their funding every year as they fight to keep our neighbors in their homes.
I'm proud of the Zoning Overhaul that protected neighborhoods and enabled large-scale commercial development in Ward 2, providing much needed commercial tax revenue and local jobs, while still preserving the community's ability to negotiate for critical local benefits. That's already bringing in millions of square feet of commercial development, thousands of jobs, and tens of millions of dollars into our Affordable Housing and Jobs Creation Trust Funds. I'm also proud to have supported the Affordable Housing Overlay, which provides density and height bonuses to developments which come in with increased affordable housing units and environmental standards. And I'm proud to have worked with neighborhood residents to increase the size of housing projects while eliminating the parking and adding badly needed green space to Ward 2.
But we need to do more to create affordable housing right now. We need to devote city funds to the CLT to increase its reach. We need to further increase staff in the Housing Division (which oversees our current affordable housing stock) and the Office of Housing Stability, and we need to reform the Somerville Housing Authority and increase our direct oversight of their spending and maintenance.
But most critically, we need to build locally-owned public housing in Somerville. With the $100M in federal funds and GLX rebates coming in, and the tens of millions of new tax revenues from the commercial construction in Ward 2, we need to leverage our excellent bond rating and begin a full-court press on building public housing directly by Somerville, using Somerville residents trained in partnership with the Trade Unions. I’m already working with partners in organized labor who have proven success in building mixed-income, multi-generational, family-oriented public housing projects in the region, and I have a plan for obtaining both the funding and the land for these projects which will both employ and house our neighbors.
Fundamentally, we need to change our approach to infrastructure and housing for the past two decades, end the privatization of critical city services, rebuild a strong working class here in Somerville, and keep our tax dollars in our community supporting local businesses and residents.
We need to dramatically increase the staff in our Inspectional Services and Engineering departments to ensure that construction is done safely, pays its workers fairly, and adheres to the conditions and agreements that are won by our neighbors working and advocating together. Whether it's limited construction hours, off-site parking requirements during construction, or even providing the required number of affordable housing units, we need more city staff to help hold developers to the terms of their agreements.
I’m not accepting any contributions from real estate developers because I believe your alderman should only work for you. Your voice as a resident of Somerville should help define how Somerville evolves, and then the city can find developers who will fit into that vision.
The COVID19 pandemic saw a dramatic increase in the amount of public engagement and participation in both neighborhood meetings and City Council proceedings. We need to make all city meetings hybrid, and provide multiple translation channels by default, to ensure more people can participate going forward.
Likewise, we need to ensure that everyone has access to the internet so that they can take advantage of these online options. That's why I've been advocating for Municipal Broadband - creating a local, city-owned utility that provides every Somerville resident with high-speed internet access.
We also have to get serious about addressing ADA compliance in city buildings and in construction throughout the city. I've pushed for additional staff with accessibility expertise and building retrofits, but we need to bolster Somerville's Disabilities Commission and make accessibility integral to every policy decision.
We have multiple "Billion Dollar Problems" on the horizon in Somerville, and all of them relate to Climate Change. Our roads are in terrible condition, and we need to repave our 100 miles of streets while restructuring them to be safer for pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists. We need to take on the Billion Dollar overhaul of our city's sewers to alleviate flooding in Ward 2, separating stormwater from sanitary sewage and updating our 100-year-old system. We need to continue to create new parks wherever possible and plant trees that will grow to become giants, providing our end of the city with desperately needed shade and cooling impacts. Finally, we need to work with climate activists around the state to find a pathway to requiring all new construction in Somerville to be fully electrified - not using fossil fuels for cooking or heating.
2017 Campaign Platform
This is what I was talking about in 2017 during my first campaign for office. How did I do in getting it done? Let's check it out:
Did you know that a 27-story luxury high-rise apartment is planned for Union Square? Or that the City approved over 200 parcels in Union Square to be taken by eminent domain? Or that even after more than 150 Somerville residents showed up at the meeting to protest it, the unelected Planning Board gave the developers at Assembly Square a waiver from the city ordinance that requires 20% affordable housing in new developments?
You shouldn't hear about these things only after they have been approved. The city has a state-of-the-art system for notifying citizens about parades and snow emergencies. When it comes to important matters that the Board of Aldermen in considering, there is only silence. We can do better.
Information about planning and zoning board meetings are only mailed to property owners, not the rental tenants who will live next door to the projects that get approved. How can residents engage with local government and consider the issues if they aren't actively informed of the city's business? We can do better. And we have. I've hosted over 150 neighborhood meetings to keep neighbors involved and get them engaged in advocating for our interests, not those of developers.
Accountability & Campaign Finance
You should have easy and frequent access to your Alderman. I live and work in Union Square. I will hold frequent office hours and return your phone calls. Above all, I believe that holding political office is a public service – not a career. And I've done just that. I've hosted office hours literally every week that I've been in office.
I’m not accepting any contributions from real estate developers because I believe your alderman should only work for you. Your voice as a resident of Somerville should help define how Somerville evolves, and then the city can find developers who will fit into that vision. And we have proved this to be true: when we hold the line and work together, we get development in Boynton Yards and beyond that benefits the city and the neighborhood, and protect our neighborhoods from predatory development.
Somerville should be prioritizing green spaces, civic spaces, playgrounds & parks to keep this community livable–and fighting for them in the deals we negotiate with developers. And we did exactly that: created multiple new parks in Ward 2 as a result of community negotiations with developers, including on Lake Street and in Boynton Yards.
We need action to address the growing opioid epidemic affecting us all, and services to help families in the most need. We should also strive to lead the way in fighting the childhood obesity epidemic. There's still work to be done here, but we've been pushing to create a Safe Consumption Site to keep our neighbors alive and provide them with help to recover when they're ready.
Commercial tax receipts are typically triple those of similarly-sized residential properties. Increasing commercial development would allow Somerville to fund our schools and public services adequately and substantially reduce residential property taxes.
In addition to increased tax revenues, expanded local employment would also reduce the amount of traffic and pollution our city already suffers from, reduce parking pressure in our neighborhoods, and enable us to improve walking and biking safety in our intersections.
Union Square zoning has been completed, but there are opportunities to ensure that new development all across Somerville is biased heavily towards expanding our jobs and tax base while incentivizing creative housing across a range of income levels. While the mayor and Board of Aldermen didn't negotiate the strong terms I would have liked to see in Union Square and Assembly Square, there is still a role for an activist board to ensure that developers pay their fair share.
And we made it happen - getting more from the Union Square development, securing parking-free development on multiple sites, negotiating Labor Agreements for union, local, and diverse hiring on multiple sites, and getting streetscape and sidewalk improvements from new development.
Whether you own or rent, you are feeling the squeeze. I've talked to renters who are forced to move every year by rising rents and doubt they'll ever be able to afford to buy. I've talked to older residents on fixed incomes being forced out of their homes by rising real estate taxes and utility rates. I've talked to families who have lived in the same house for generations who are now finding their adult children can't buy homes nearby, and are instead being pushed out to other cities. We need bold action to preserve the community we all share whether we've been here three years or three generations. We can do better.
Benevolent Landlord Tax Credit
The city should develop a robust program of incentives for landlords who rent units in the multi-family homes and triple deckers where they live to keep rental costs as low as possible. Multi-family homes make up a large part of Somerville's rental properties and most landlords don't want to raise rents past a level they know their long-term neighbor tenants can afford–but with rising property taxes they often don't have a choice. A Benevolent Landlord Tax Credit will reduce the property taxes for live-in landlords who commit to keeping rents affordable.
Right of First Refusal Law
This would mean that when an owner sells a property with rental units, the first opportunity to buy would go to the tenants already living there. Tenants can form co-ops and purchase the homes they rent together; immediately stabilizing the neighborhood, preventing displacement, slowing gentrification, increasing homeownership, and helping to nurture the sense of community here in Somerville.
It doesn't hurt the seller in any way–and it doesn't cost the city a dime. It has worked in cities like Washington D.C. and it can work here in Somerville. And it already has - we created a ROFR in the Condo Conversion Law created in my first term, the strongest in the entire state.
Community Land Trusts
Purchasers work in cooperation with the CLT to buy property, leaving ownership of the Land in the Trust while retaining ownership of their buildings.
These organizations help tenants purchase properties by reducing costs, since their mortgage only needs to cover the building and not the land beneath it. This is another proven method for preserving affordable housing while putting community members and residents in the driver's seat in terms of governing their own neighborhood.
The Champlain Housing Trust in Burlington, VT and the Dudley Neighbors Incorporated in Boston are leading local examples of Land Trusts. As of 2014 there were over 260 Community Land Trusts in 46 states. Somerville should have one, and I'll be pushing to make that happen immediately.
And now it exists! I served on a task force with city staff and Councilor Ewen-Campen to bring this into existence, and we'll continue working to get it funding and property to fulfill the promise of this incredible vehicle for change!