On Thursday, December 11, the Somerville Board of Aldermen unanimously approved an ordinance amending the zoning code, adding new provisions to promote and protect the City's stock of affordable housing for low-and moderate-income residents.
The ordinance, filed by Mark Niedergang and co-sponsored by Rebekah Gewirtz and Katjana Ballantyne, was developed in collaboration with members of the Affordable Housing Organizing Committee (AHOC), many of whom testified at the bill's hearing in September and contacted aldermen encouraging them to support it.
The ordinance amends the zoning code in three ways:
- It adds a new purpose to the code: “to protect and promote a housing stock that can accommodate the diverse household sizes and life stages of Somerville residents at all income levels, paying particular attention to providing housing affordable to individuals and families with low and moderate incomes.”
- It requires those seeking special permits for projects involving four or more units of housing to provide the special permit granting authority (SPGA) with information about “measures taken to provide for, protect, or increase the affordability of the housing units.”
- It requires the SPGA to make a determination as to how implementation of such a project would increase, decrease, or leave unchanged the City's stock of affordable housing.
AHOC members have worked hard over the last few months to ensure passage of this ordinance, offering suggestions on the language, testifying in support, and meeting with aldermen to build awareness of and support for the bill. As AHOC member Afruza Akther testified at the September hearing on the legislation, “It is becoming impossible to find affordable housing in Somerville. The Planning Board should recognize this and think about affordable housing when they are approving new developments.”
Supporters of the legislation thank Alderman Niedergang for his role as the lead sponsor, and Alderman Bill White for his feedback on early drafts. Land Use Committee Chair Dennis Sullivan also played a key role. With the help of Planning Director George Proakis, he led the process of creating technical amendments to address concerns expressed by the City and Planning Board.
“This was truly a collaborative effort on an issue that all of us are passionate about: keeping Somerville affordable and preserving its diversity. Once members of the Board understood the legislation, they were quick to support it,” said AHOC member Fred Berman. Mayor Curtatone and members of the Board of Aldermen have all expressed concern about how development pressures are pushing rents and housing prices out of reach for longtime residents and newcomers who want to move here.
Noting that the City is in the process of completely rewriting the zoning code, and at the same time preparing to convene a working group to advance Mayor Curtatone's ambitious package of affordable housing initiatives, AHOC member Lauren Shuffleton observed that “this ordinance represents an important step toward ensuring that Somerville remains affordable for all. Let's hope that discussions about the zoning overhaul and the Sustainable Neighborhoods initiative are as collaborative and productive. If so, we can make Somerville a national example of development without displacement.”