Community Development Standards, Opportunity Zone, the Innerbelt, and Pizza—How are these all connected?

November 26, 2019

SCC, along with Union United, City of Somerville, LOCUS, Union Square Main Streets, City Councilor Ben Ewen-Campen, and other Somerville residents have been hard at work to answer the question:  How can we make sure the new development, and the investment in the new development in Somerville’s designated Opportunity Zones, directly benefits our community, and does not further gentrify it? 

First, a very basic overview of Opportunity Zones:  Opportunity Zones are designated districts across the country that are eligible to receive equity investments for real estate or business activity while granting the investor a tax incentive.  Investors who have capital gains can defer and reduce their capital gains tax if they invest their gains into a designated Opportunity Zone district via an Opportunity Zone Fund.  Somerville has two such Opportunity Zones, one in the Assembly Row area; the other in the area between Union Square and the eastern boarder of Somerville (Brick Bottom, Boynton Yards, Inner Belt).  There are copious articles and resources about Opportunity Zones, (for example, check out: https://www.lisc.org/boston/our-work/policy-advocacy/opportunity-zones/).  If you are interested in learning more or getting involved, let us know.   

But back to our story:  after watching the rapid transformation of Assembly Square and the current transformation of Union Square, we know how important it is for community members to get directly involved in the development process.   Because of community activism and organizing, we have an Inclusionary Zoning Policy that requires 20% of new residential buildings to be dedicated to affordable housing. We  have a housing and a jobs linkage policy that gets triggered during commercial development that pays $10.00 and $2.51 per square foot respectively into the Housing Trust Fund and the Jobs Trust Fund. And we have the Community Benefits Agreement with US2 that will dedicate $4 million to meet the demands and needs expressed by the community via the Union Square Neighborhood Council.   

Now, as we anticipate the next wave of development rolling into Inner Belt, Brick Bottom, Boynton Yards, and Union Square East, we are gearing up to get ahead of the new development by creating a list of community development standards and principles shaped by community members who live or work in this region.  These standards can be used proactively in the future to influence future CBA’s, neighborhood plans, zoning, development and investment criteria, city ordinances, etc.   

To date, the steering committee has hosted 2 community sessions on November 2nd and November 16th.  These have been productive meetings to start generating the list of values and development standards shared by the community.  And there was a lot of pizza. And salad. Participants are now taking the next few weeks to hear more from other community members to help shape this list.  We will reconvene in a few weeks, date to be announced, to share the evolving list of development standards, and unify a shared vision for what the community wants and needs in this Opportunity Zone.  We are optimistic that by working together in advance, we stand a chance of having a say in what kind of development we will see in the future.