Housing Affordability & Stability
Our city has undergone rapid change in the past couple of decades. Some of it has been good, while some has been disastrous. We need to thread the needle of making Somerville a truly amazing place to live without pricing out longtime residents.
For too long now, we’ve heard our electeds talk about the need to address the affordability crisis without actually doing much of anything to change that. The time for talk is over and action is needed now.
Above all else, we need to be increasing our city’s supply of housing — and especially housing that is actually affordable. Inclusionary housing units are great and make a difference for those fortunate enough to win the lotteries. We need to be incentivizing developers to build true middle-class and low-income housing, and doing this near transit hubs. If we can’t get developers on board with this, we should build these kinds of housing ourselves, potentially through community land trusts.
Our current housing inventory is painfully lacking in the three- and four-bedroom units needed to keep families in Somerville. Many of the small number of these units that we do have are occupied by coalitions of roommates. We need to be building co-housing at transit hubs. Co-housing is a much more attractive option to a college student or recent college graduate, since they won’t need to find and replace roommates. By freeing up our three- and four-bedroom units, we stand a chance of losing fewer families.
Large-scale developers might be an important partner for the city as it creates new neighborhoods and brings transformative changes like the Green Line Extension to Somerville. However, these companies need to demonstrate a financial and cultural commitment to this community if they’re going to be enriching themselves off us. The city should help forge community benefits agreements between developers and the people of Somerville to make sure our interests are at the center of these projects.
Property owners investing in their properties is good. Small-scale developers buying up affordable properties and flipping them into luxury housing is bad. I have a plan involving introducing prohibitively-expensive building permit fees for newly-purchased properties — and waiving these fees for a period of time if the property isn’t re-sold — to disincentivize the flipping of properties without impacting property owners’ ability to make improvements to their properties.
There are good landlords and there are bad landlords, just like there are good tenants and bad tenants. With such a high proportion of our housing being rental units, Somerville needs to have healthy, symbiotic landlord-tenant relationships and we should do everything in our power to encourage this.
Good landlords know that dramatically increasing the rent on returning tenants when a lease is renewed isn’t the way to go. I favor the most simple form of rent control that places an annual cap on the amount rent can be increased in a lease renewal. This is a way of incentivizing all landlords to behave like good landlords. But I want to be clear that this is years away from being a possibility due to the action required by Beacon Hill.
While we’re waiting for the repeal of the prohibition on rent control at the state level, I have a plan to incentivize landlords to not spike the rent on their tenants by tying their assessments to those rental properties’ rental amounts. If a landlord keeps their rent affordable, their assessment will stay affordable. If, however, they raise their rent, their assessment will go up accordingly.
We need to make sure both tenants and landlords know their full rights and responsibilities to make sure the rental relationship works for all parties. Somerville should require a review of a basic form — translated at minimum into Spanish, Portuguese, and Haitian Creole — at the time of any lease signing (including renewals) that outlines this information in a way that people actually can understand.
Justice & Equality
Somerville claims to prize its diversity, and we need to make sure these aren’t just empty words. Just like in our country, there’s a divide in this city between rich and poor, professional and working class, white people and people of color, and those who were born here and those who came here seeking a better life. And we need to be working to bridge that divide.
If our community determines that redevelopment is in order, we need to make sure that this is happening in a just and equitable way. We need to make sure that property owners and business owners are made right when their properties are seized and their businesses displaced by redevelopment. Too often businesses owned by immigrants and People of Color bear the brunt of redevelopment, and we need to make sure this stops.
Additionally, too often it falls on People of Color to be the watchdogs of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusivity — and this simply isn’t right or fair. As your City Councilor, I’ll be focused heavily on DEI initiatives, just like I have been in my non-profit work. I’ve worked extensively on outreach to our city’s immigrant communities and bridging the cultural divide in our segregated city, and I’ve achieved results.
I’ll work to make civilian review of our local police a reality. And I’ll help make sure this isn’t just for show, but rather an empowered body capable of conducting actual oversight and enacting real change — comprised of the voices of those most impacted by this.
We need to dramatically reimagine our public safety and criminal justice systems in this country, and that starts at the local level. We’re asking our police to do far too many things and introducing law enforcement into situations that would be better handled by social workers, mediators, crisis workers, and drug treatment counselors. I’ll work to help create this new corps of front-line workers that reduces the need for police and results in fewer citizens entering our carceral system, allowing us to divert current law enforcement funds to these new initiatives.
Like most of our country, Somerville’s aging infrastructure requires investment. State and federal funding should be sought wherever possible — and ARPA and future program funds used as wisely and fairly as possible — to help cover some of these costs. It’s also going to mean prioritizing these projects by finding funds for them out of municipal coffers. And we need to find a fair and equitable way of raising the revenues required to pay for this and other spending increases.
We’ve got a gleaming new high school, but meanwhile the pandemic has exposed the fact that two elementary schools — the Winter Hill Community Innovation School and the Benjamin G. Brown School — are housed in buildings that need to be replaced. I propose building a new combined school on the site of the current Department of Public Works facility on Franey Road, and relocating the DPW to Inner Belt. This site was considered as an option for the new high school project, and it’s right in-between the two existing school buildings.
The Franey Road site is large enough to also construct a long-awaited and badly-needed community center. Our city’s kids, teenagers, adults, and seniors all need and deserve this space, and this is an opportunity to make that happen. And the location is ideal, with Green Line stops blocks away on either side, the Community Path running just to the south, and the Broadway bus lines on the other side of Trum Field.
Our City Hall also is in need of renovation, as anyone who had to conduct business there this year can tell you. This is going to require significant capital investment on our part, and we need to find the will and funds required to make this happen.
The work underway to create a separate storm sewer system to prevent untreated waste from entering public waterways during storms is hugely important, and we need to see that continue and expand throughout the city. I’ll work to keep this going and growing.
Mobility & Safety
Drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians find themselves in conflict on our streets and in our crosswalks far too often. Part of this is down to the fact that we’re an old city with the narrow streets to prove it. But it’s also a bit of a zero-sum game where initiatives that improve safety or convenience for one group tend to come at the expense of another group.
The good news about narrow streets is that they tend to slow down vehicle traffic. But we also need to be using traffic-calming measures like raised crosswalks, speed tables, and speed bumps/humps to increase safety. The city’s recent embrace of bumpouts to reduce crossing distances for pedestrians is a great thing, and I’d like to see a lot more of this.
As a cyclist, I’m in favor of protected bike lanes wherever they can fit. Unfortunately, Somerville has a lot of streets where this will never be feasible. The reality is that drivers and cyclists need to coexist on the streets. A bicycle network in Somerville is a great step forward, provided city planners are making sure they’re taking into account which routes cyclists take and not engaging in wishful thinking.
One thing that will help alleviate the crush on Somerville streets is cutting down on the cut-through traffic that clogs up our city every weekday morning and evening. The reality is that a lot of vehicle traffic from outside Somerville elects to drive through our city on their commute to and from work. City Hall estimates that as much as 70 percent of the cars on our streets during rush hour begin and end their journeys in other towns and cities. We need to restrict access to key city streets during rush hour to keep commuter traffic on highways where it belongs and thereby reducing the number of vehicles on our streets during peak times.
The looming opening of the Green Line Extension will give Somerville a light rail line running right through the heart of our city, following years of only having MBTA subway stops on the periphery of our city limits. I believe public transit should be fully funded by the public and that no fares should be collected from riders. This is going to take time to happen at the state level, but in the meantime we need get free T passes to as many Somervillians as possible, beginning with seniors, the disabled, elementary and high school students and their families, and college students.
We also need to be mindful of accessibility when we talk mobility. I grew up frequently helping transport a close relative who was a wheelchair user, so I’m all too familiar with the challenges faced by disabled folks. We need to make sure as a city that we’re doing right by our disabled population and meeting our obligations under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.
Somerville needs to always be striving to improve the quality and quantity of services it’s providing, as well as the access to these services. Then there’s the issue of communications and making sure that people are able to access clear and helpful information about these services. This is one area where our city is very notably lagging behind some of our neighbors. We need a better City of Somerville website and vastly improved information hubs for new residents, renters, business owners, and families.
We’ve made good investments in our city’s parks and that needs to continue. Every neighborhood deserves a quality park, even if that means the city acquiring land to make this happen. As we increase our inventory of turf athletic fields, we should be taking advantage of the availability and durability of those playing surfaces to offer community hours on city fields, for passive and non-permitted use by residents.
The flooding that impacts neighborhoods of our city during times of heavy rainfall is getting worse, and that’s only likely to continue due to the impact of climate change. Planning and Zoning need to be examining the flooding impact of their decisions, and we need to be incentivizing the removal of non-permeable asphalt driveways and parking areas on residential properties. We also need to be looking into drainage solutions for private property, as these flooding situations often impact large numbers of properties.
Universal Pre-Kindergarten is a good thing and definitely something we need to offer in this city. But the reality is that the hours (8:45 AM to 1:45 PM) simply don’t work for families who don’t have a parent at home. SPS needs to offer before-school and afterschool programming that meets the needs of the modern family. This is going to mean increasing the budget for schools, but we need to find a way to do this for Somerville families.
One of the biggest complaints I hear from voters concerns rats. The construction throughout our city has turned what used to be a neighborhood-specific issue into a city-wide one. The current approach isn’t working and it definitely feels like we’re losing the war on rodents. Many residents have commented that they don’t use their outdoor areas any more because of all the rats. We need to be getting serious about combatting our rat problem, and I’d welcome the opportunity to serve on the Rodent Issues special committee and work with the next administration to make sure we’re implementing proven approaches to turn things around.
Somerville has seen a major uptick in airplane noise since 2013, when the FAA changed flight paths out of Logan Airport. The problem has worsened in recent years, without any real response from those with the power to address this. We need to be organizing as citizens and as a city government and working together with other nearby towns and with our state and federal legislators to see real changes enacted to improve the situation.
The removal of a number of parking spots for both outdoor dining space and streetscape projects has had an outsized impact on our disabled and senior populations. Having to park blocks away from their destination is a much bigger issue for many of these folks, and I want to see Somerville prioritize parking for them in business districts. The city should issue a new (free) senior parking pass that can be used for designated senior parking spots during the hours where seniors are mostly likely to use those spots.
Our vast network of city streets needs to be kept in good condition, with potholes repaired and scheduled resurfacing of entire streets. This is an issue that goes beyond cracked vehicle rims, as uneven surfaces create major safety concerns for cyclists and can lead to collisions between vehicles and with cyclists and pedestrians. As a City Council, we need to make sure the budget allows for proper maintenance of streets and that we’re quickly identifying and addressing issues with roads as they arise.
Similarly, our sidewalks need to be maintained well in the interest of pedestrian safety and access for the disabled. Outdoor dining is great — in both pandemic and non-pandemic times — but we have a legal and moral obligation to our disabled community members to ensure that our sidewalks remain passable according to federal ADA law.
With our state and federal governments not showing much will or effectiveness when it comes to battling climate change, it’s falling to local governments to do this work. I’ll work to help make sure Somerville is pulling its weight when it comes to reducing its carbon footprint to do our part for our planet and for future generations.
We have Interstate 93 and state highways cutting through our city, and we need to be demanding that the state effectively address the climate and health issues created by all of this traffic. Sound barriers along I-93 are a must, and I would add the need for vegetation barriers wherever possible.
Green jobs are not just sound environmental policy, but make sense from an economic point of view as we make necessary changes to keep our planet habitable. I support the creation of a green jobs program as part of Somerville High School’s vocational programs.
Our building code’s standards should reflect our city’s commitment to battling climate change, and we should look to incentivize developers and builders to go beyond the minimum required standards. Property owners should receive property tax breaks when their buildings are receive certifications. Crucially, our Inspectional Services Division needs to be properly staffed and trained to ensure compliance.
Somerville needs to be ready for the electric car revolution. As the owner of a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, I know the scale of the problem facing us as we switch from gas to electric vehicles. A city like ours that is reliant on on-street parking has it particularly rough, because we’re going to need to figure out how to get charging capabilities to cars. Failure to do so will mean slower conversion from gas to electric cars by Somerville residents, so we need to be working on solutions for this.
Our city government needs to be pushing Somerville residential and commercial property owners to be using their rooftops and open areas for solar installations, by offering any incentives we can as a city and by connecting people with information on the resources available at the state and federal level. And we should look at municipal building rooftops for our own solar installations.
Whether it’s incentivizing private property owners to green up their properties or figuring out ways to create new green space in this city, I’ll prioritize increasing Somerville’s very limited green space using every tool at our disposal.
Somerville might’ve come a long way from the infamous backroom deals and corruption of the old days, but there’s still plenty that goes on here that wouldn’t look great in the light of day.
The mayor’s office wields an incredible amount of power here, and it’s long past time for us to fix that with charter reform. This charter reform should make the City Council an equal partner in governance of the city, creating better checks and balances on the executive rather than the limited authority currently granted to the body.
Whenever the city commits public funds to a new development, there should be a clear explanation to residents of the potential benefits to the city, complete with a realistic projection of future tax revenues generated from it and a disclosure of any tax breaks or mitigating circumstances that might lessen the positive impact on the city’s bottom line.
I believe it’s improper for anyone conducting business with the city to donate to local electeds’ political campaigns. Money plays such a corrupting role in politics that I hate even asking for campaign contributions. I’ll commit to returning any political donations that create even the appearance of a conflict of interest due to potential influence from anyone with a business relationship with the city.
Ultimately, I’m accountable to the people of Somerville. Not an outside group, special interest, or political donors.
I’ll explain my votes to my constituents on noteworthy issues. You may not necessarily agree with a particular vote, but I promise you’ll understand why I voted the way I did.
I’ll be working for you full-time as a City Councilor. I’ll hold regular office hours during the daytime and evening and weekends to make myself accessible to you, my bosses.
I’ll insist on accountability from others in city government, whether they’re my fellow elected officials or city employees. In the end, we’re all working for the people of Somerville.
In the past few years we’ve seen repeated outrageous incidents of city contractors failing to deliver on what the people of Somerville have paid for in terms of goods and services. Whether it’s a park with faulty drainage or maintenance work on schools, we paid for things in good faith and weren’t delivered what we were promised. I’ll look to make sure that city contractors give us what we’re paying them to do for us.