CITY TO LAUNCH AFFORDABLE HOUSING PROGRAM

CITY TO LAUNCH COMPREHENSIVE AFFORDABLE HOUSING PROGRAM

 “Sustainable Neighborhoods” plan to broaden and deepen Somerville’s affordability efforts includes 100-home strategy,
expansion of inclusionary zoning, tax credits for benevolent landlords and increased SomerVision housing goals

PDF preview links to a download of Mayor Curtatone's Sustainable Neighborhoods Presentation

Mayor Curtatone's Sustainable Neighborhoods Presentation (PDF)

 

Link: Apply to Serve on Sustainable Neighborhoods Networking Group

SOMERVILLE –In
the face of a regional affordable housing crisis, the City of
Somerville is expanding its already robust housing affordability efforts
to create a comprehensive program that addresses affordability from all
angles and across all needed income brackets, Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone
announced today.

Building
off the promise he made in his inaugural address in January 2014 to
protect people who have chosen to live in Somerville, Mayor Curtatone
will present “Sustainable Neighborhoods,” an outline of the next steps
to broaden and deepen the City’s efforts to maintain affordability for
the people and families of Somerville, at the Board of Aldermen’s
Housing and Community Development Committee meeting on Wednesday, Oct.
15 at 6 p.m. The meeting is open to the public.

On
the heels of Somerville recently instituting the highest residential
property tax exemption in Massachusetts at 35%, the Sustainable
Neighborhoods initiative will start immediately with six actions to be
proposed to the Board of Aldermen:

1. 100 Affordable Homes Strategy:
The City will launch a program with the Somerville Community
Corporation (SCC), backing the SCC’s ability to compete for existing
properties available on the market that are currently being lost in some
cases to speculators. The SCC would rehabilitate those homes and act as
a benevolent owner and landlord, ensuring a diversity of units that are
affordable to a range of incomes, with a goal of creating 100 new
affordable rental units within the first three years of the initiative.

2. Comprehensive Zoning Reform: The comprehensive reform of the Somerville zoning code coming by the end of fall will include four key proposals:

a. Expanded Inclusionary Zoning: The
City’s inclusionary zoning ordinance will be expanded to both increase
the number of affordable units that must be created alongside market
rate units, and broaden the reach of the ordinance to include workforce
housing for middle income households.

b. Increase Family Housing in Larger Projects:
To encourage affordability for family housing, the zoning code would
require the creation of more multi-bedroom affordable units in larger 
building projects.

c. Spurring Development in Transformational Areas:
Consistent with the City’s comprehensive SomerVision plan and smart
growth principles proven to help stabilize housing prices, the proposed
zoning code would make it easier to build housing and commercial
development in transformational areas of the city such as
Brickbottom-Inner Belt. That broadened approach will make it easier to
address the supply-side issues around housing affordability and
encourage investment in the creation of more homes.

d. Maker and Artist Districts. The
new zoning code would establish a district for artists and fabrication,
or “makers,” and within that district certified working artists/makers
would be allowed to live in their work space.

3. Tax Credits for Benevolent Landlords: The
City will pursue legislation at the state level that will allow the
City to offer tax incentives to landlords who maintain rents at
affordable levels.

4. Local Transfer Tax: Massachusetts
has a real estate transfer tax, but municipalities currently do not
have the ability to institute such a fee. The City will pursue
legislation at the state level that would allow a local transfer tax on
certain real estate sales where speculators are flipping properties and
realizing large gains in a short period of time, with revenues raised by
that fee dedicated solely toward the creation of more affordable
housing.

5. Setting New SomerVision Goal:
The City’s 20-year comprehensive plan calls for the creation of 6,000
new homes by 2030, with 1,200 of those homes permanently affordable. The
City partnered with the SCC and the Metropolitan Area Planning Council
(MAPC) on a report earlier this year on the effect of the Green Line
Extension on housing in Somerville, and that report concluded that
Somerville will need between 6,000 and 9,000 new homes. In light of that
report, Mayor Curtatone is calling upon the SomerVision steering
committee to reconvene and revise the plan’s housing goal from the
minimum amount called for in the MAPC report to its maximum goal of
9,000 homes.

6. Innovative Affordable Housing Design Competition: In
seeking innovative ways to create affordable housing in densely
populated cities, the City will invite designers to be part of the
solution and submit innovative design solutions for modern affordable
family housing. This demonstration will tap a City-owned surplus
property, providing a brick-and-mortar example of ways to build
affordable family housing in cities.

Sustainable Neighborhoods Working Group to Target Housing Innovation

Those
actions present only the initial steps of what will be a
community-driven process. Somerville’s greatest successes have come from
elected officials, City Hall staff and the talented members of the
community collaborating on the development of a shared set of goals.

That
process will be driven by a new Sustainable Neighborhoods Working Group
that will represent experts in the field, stakeholders and advocates,
industry professionals, City Planning and Housing staff, and residents,
bringing together a variety of expertise and experience around the issue
of affordable housing to recommend bold and innovative ways that the
City can address affordability for families. Those approaches must
protect and preserve the affordable housing already in the city, expand
the City’s resources to create more, and broaden the initiative to
include middle-income housing for working families, while recognizing
that building more housing alone is not enough to control this systemic
challenge.

Call for Regional Action

Mayor
Curtatone has advocated for a regional approach to the housing crisis,
citing the joint MAPC-Somerville-SCC report that the 101 cities and
towns in the Metro Boston region need to create 435,000 new housing
units by 2040 to accommodate retiring baby boomers and new workers, with
most of those units needing to be multi-family homes and in urban
areas.

In
addition to the City’s new affordable housing initiatives, Mayor
Curtatone is issuing a clarion call for every city and town in the
region to institute real, comprehensive plans to produce their share of
the homes that are needed over the next three decades, and to publicly
pledge to do so within the next six months.

“Somerville
has led the way on affordability. We have approved the highest
residential property tax exemption in the Commonwealth, set aggressive
inclusionary zoning requirements, and our community overwhelmingly
passed the Community Preservation Act, which we plan to dedicate first
and foremost to affordable housing. But Somerville cannot do this
alone,” said Mayor Curtatone. “Even our best efforts will be for naught
if other communities do not meet their own obligations to create more
housing and embrace smart growth principles. We have seen bits and
pieces done throughout the region, but each city and town needs a
comprehensive approach that cumulatively will bring the impact we need
region wide. Boston is now releasing recommendations to tackle
affordability, which is encouraging, but we need broad, regional
collaboration by all metro area cities and we need a clear commitment to
that today.”

Building Upon Current Affordability Programs

Somerville
has a wide variety of affordability programs already in place,
including its community-driven SomerVision plan, inclusionary zoning
policy, residential property tax exemption and the Community
Preservation Act. The City also creates affordable rental units through
its housing rehabilitation and de-leading programs, and assists
first-time homebuyers through closing cost and down payment assistance
programs. Additional programs assist with heating system replacement for
income eligible homeowners and support housing for those at-risk of
becoming homeless. The City’s linkage fee on commercial construction
also generates funding for the creation of more affordable units, the
Tenancy Stabilization Program, and housing grants that serve the needs
of low and moderate income households. The Board of Aldermen voted in
the past year to increase the linkage fee to generate an estimated
additional $1 million for the City’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund.

“Everything
we’ve done over the past decade has been about building community, from
making our city more walkable and bikeable, to bringing more jobs,
services and homes to our neighborhoods through smart economic
development, but all of these efforts must start with affordability,”
said Mayor Curtatone. “Our current efforts are wide-ranging, but still
too limited in scope for the regional challenge we face. It’s not a
problem for only lower-income households, but for middle-income
households. And even today there are members of our community for whom
affordable housing dedicated to lower income households remains out of
reach. A true community looks out for its neighbors. In my inaugural, I
said that over the past decade, I have learned I’m never alone when I’m
fighting for the people of this community. And I know that we are not
alone today. This is a monumental task. We are taking on an issue that
no city, anywhere, has ever completely solved. But we are united, and
therein lies all the difference.”

“Not
only is Somerville a tremendously desirable place to live, but we are
experiencing the extraordinary housing market pressure of Boston and
surrounding urban areas,” said Ward 5 Alderman Mark Niedergang, Chair of
the Housing and Community Development Committee. “Ironically,
Somerville’s success over the past decade in advocating for the Assembly
Orange Line Station and the Green Line Extension and making our city an
exciting, dynamic place heightens the affordable housing challenge we
face. We must accelerate our efforts to build more affordable housing,
to keep people and families in our City who have contributed to our
community, and to maintain the diversity that we cherish.”

“The
City has been a great partner with SCC over the years in trying to
maintain the economic diversity that makes Somerville such a terrific
place to raise a family today,” said SCC Executive Director Danny
LeBlanc. “We’re at a tipping point, both in Somerville and in the
region. The Green Line Extension we have fought for is coming, as is a
wave of new development, and we need a robust plan for affordable
housing so that residents of all income levels can stay here and we can
sustain a Somerville for everyone.”

"As
President of the Board of Aldermen I welcome the comprehensive proposal
put forward by the Mayor,” said Board of Alderman President Bill White.
“This proposal appears to address concerns expressed by me in my
inaugural speech this year and by the entire Board of Aldermen.  I look
forward to the Board's thorough review of these proposals and the input
of our residents."