Monthly Archives: April 2016

Local: Talk To Your Alderpeople

This is a shoutout to all my Somervillians. These are some useful words from Katie Gradowski.

Affordable Housing in Somerville

The Board of Aldermen is considering an important zoning amendment that would raise the percentage of inclusionary zoning (i.e. affordable housing) to 20% in developments over six units.


In December 2015, members of AHOC (Affordable Housing Organizing Committee) submitted a petition to change the inclusionary zoning percentages ahead of the comprehensive zoning overhaul.   The current IZ rate is12.5% — for every new building with 8 or more units, 12.5% needs to be designated as affordable housing.  AHOC’s proposal would raise the percentage to 20% while lowering the number of triggering units  to 6 – meaning that small developments would *also* have to meet these targets, which they currently don’t have to do.

At last Tuesday’s BOA meeting, RKG Associates suggested that the value of the discount for one affordable unit in a 7-unit building is around $170,000 at a 13.39% rate of return. We’re not asking developers to go broke. We’re asking them to take a small percentage of their profits and reinvest in this community.  If we can do it, why can’t they?

Why it Matters

We are a data-driven city — and right now, the City of Somerville has data that suggests that upwards of 70% of renters living in this city can’t afford current market rates. The going rate for a 2 bedroom apartment in Somerville is $2500; in a new building, it’s upwards of $3500.  Those are astonishing figures! Increasingly, Parts and Crafts families and staff are having to leave the city because they simply can’t afford to rent here.   We don’t want to close up and move shop, which is why we’re asking for your help!  If you support affordable housing, now is the time to speak up and make your opinion known.

Loss of Commercial Space

We are losing commercial space at an unprecedented rate, and it’s going primarily small-scale condo development, precisely the type of small investor the Planning Department would seek to protect by holding off on 20%. Many commercial tenants are having a hard time renewing leases or getting basic maintenance done.   Others can’t find space at all, as buildings they might otherwise occupy are being replaced by high-end condos.   If preserving small-scale affordable art spaces is important to you, now is the time to say so!

Call to Action

 There are things you can do!

Contact Your Alderperson

Reach out to your Alderperson!

Alderpeople at Large

Individual Alderpeople

To find out who your ward’s alderperson is, check the City of Somerville’s website!

Sample Letter

Hello [NAME],

[INTRODUCE YOURSELF.]  I’m writing to ask you to support the 20% inclusionary zoning proposal currently before the Board of Aldermen.  I believe this is a fair and reasonable proposal that could have a significant impact on resident’s ability to stay in the city long-term.
  • There is a pressing need for workforce housing in the city.   I am concerned that without real action on housing affordability many will be priced out of Somerville and will be forced to look further afield. Many residents of Somerville are eligible for affordable housing and cannot afford to rent at current rates, which are upwards of $2500 a month for a two-bedroom apartment.  Many families have already left the city, and and small businesses are being forced to reevaluate the viability of remaining in Somerville.
  • I am alarmed by the rate at which commercial space in and around Union Square is being replaced by high-end luxury development.  Tenants within the arts community are having difficulty renewing leases and getting basic maintenance done  on work, studio, and community spaces.  In many cases, landlords are explicit about their desire to turn over buildings and redevelop as condominiums.  New spaces are few and far between; First floor retail space is quoted at $335,000 for 400 square feet. We are reaching a point where soon there will be no buildings left.
  • To date, the conversation has not taken into account the pressing needs of the arts and small business community, many of whom are directly threatened by the kind of small-scale development that the planning board’s recommendations would seek to preserve.  Beyond the number of affordable units created by this proposal, there are clear reasons to push for 20% as a check on the housing market, and whatever losses small-scale developers will incur will be minimal compared to the value of keeping businesses, non-profits, and community organizations in place.


Here is a list of thirteen fantasy projects I’d love to do, but probably will never have the resources to make happen.

  1. Volunteer brigade of sysadmins, dev ops, and IT people interested in giving their time or working for a small fee in order to help public-sector and non-profits switch from proprietary licensed software to free software.
  2.  Community supported github like coop so we can own where our code is stored
  3. Flipping the grant process, so non-profits + projects write standardized profiles that grant giving and philanthropic orgs search
  4. A non-profit that funds fellowships to provide overhead and support for non-profits
  5. A monitoring and rating org for charity monitoring and rating orgs
  7. Intro to feminism, social justice, intersectionality, and being nice courses designed for people in tech and, really, the rest of the world. Very theory based.
  8. A free software version of google forms that is easy to use.
  9. An analysis of governance models used in specific projects from the context of decision making and heirarchical practices
  10. A regularly released copyleft music anthology of songs I like
  11. Social maps of how far away you have to get from someone being monitored by the FBI to not be monitored
  12. More writing about free software stuff–especially relating to philosophical things.
  13. Marketing and Design hackathon for technology for good/human rights/freedoms based projects