Development is a loaded word in these parts, and with good reason. The potential benefits include an increased tax base, new housing, new jobs, and better infrastructure. The potential pitfalls include large-scale displacement, chains strangling local business, and the loss of neighborhood and community. These are serious stakes.
As a city, we must remember that we, not the developers, are the ones holding the cards; our city is in demand, and therefore we have the leverage to demand more of the developers who want to profit off of our commercial centers, neighborhoods, and public transit. We should expand inclusionary housing requirements and demand a minimum of 20% of all new units be permanently affordable, with a wide range of definitions of “affordable” within that. Any significant new residential construction should include units that are large enough for growing families AND small enough for housing-insecure individuals who just need a place to live, as well as units that are accessible for people with disabilities and for those who wish to age-in-place. And to make room on our roads for increased density, we should eliminate any requirements that new housing developments in transit-oriented areas include parking.
There are benefits to development too, and these benefits should be shared by all Somerville residents. Elizabeth wants to see this happen by implementing more progressive municipal taxes. She favor a real estate transfer tax, targeted to primarily affect large commercial projects and speculators. Such a tax could directly fund affordable housing programs, public infrastructure, and education while alleviating some of the pressure on residential property taxpayers. Developers can also show that they are good neighbors by hiring Somerville residents. Elizabeth would support the revival of the previously proposed Local Hiring Ordinance, which would have required developers who receive grants or local tax incentives to hire 30% of their workforce from Somerville residents.
If any part of Somerville knows how new public transportation can change things, it’s Ward 6. Davis Square is a fundamentally different place now than it was twenty years ago, and most of the change has been for the better. Before too long — if the GLX continues as planned — Ward 6 will have a second T station. The time to start planning is now. We in West Somerville must pay close attention to the introduction of the GLX in Union Square, so that we can learn from the successes and difficulties of the GLX’s introduction in that neighborhood. We must begin attending to Ball Square’s development now, before the GLX is on our doorsteps, to help smooth the transition to come.