City of Somerville

Housing has become an even more difficult challenge for Somerville since the adoption of SomerVision 2030. This section explores how to create more housing choice, promote the right kind of housing development, prevent displacement, reduce homelessness, and support our existing ecosystem of resources.

I. Preserve and expand an integrated, balanced mix of safe, affordable and environmentally sound rental and homeownership units for households of all sizes and types from diverse social and economic groups.

II. Promote mixed-use, mixed-income, transit-oriented development to provide new housing and employment options.

III. Mitigate the displacement of low and moderate income residents by retaining the existing affordable
housing stock and by creating policies that allow residents to remain in their homes in the face of a changing city.

IV. Create a diversity of programs that prevent homelessness and address the housing needs of the homeless and those at risk of homelessness.

V. Expand financial, organizational, programmatic, and other resources available for housing.

  • Inclusionary Zoning: In 2016, the Board of Alderman approved a proposal to implement stronger inclusionary zoning requirements. These requirements mandate that, of new developments with over 18 units, 20% of those units must be affordable. The share drops to 17.5% for developments of 8-17 units. In addition, the new requirements require that affordable rent is calculated including all costs associated with the unit, including utilities, parking, and any other amenities.
  • Condominium Conversion Ordinance: The City made changes to its Condo Review process, which requires developers who are transitioning rental units into ownership condos provide at least a year of notice to tenants. Staffing changes regarding who manages these rules have resulted in a more standardized process, and the Board of Aldermen is discussing further changes to make this ordinance more effective at this time.
  • Office of Housing Stability: The City established this new department in 2018 to provide a full range of professional services in support of residents seeking assistance in maintaining their residency in Somerville despite the increasing threat of displacement due to market pressures.
  • 100 Homes: A collaboration between the Massachusetts Housing Investment Corporation, the City, the Somerville Affordable Housing Trust, and the Somerville Community Corporation (SCC) aims to create 100 new affordable rental units. The partnership provides financial support to SCC to buy properties on the market, rehabilitate them, and act as a benevolent owner and landlord by turning them into rental units that are affordable to a range of incomes.
  • New Affordable Developments: According to our SomerVision tracker, we expect to have 438 new affordable housing units by the end of 2019. About 11% of these new units have been through the 100 Homes progress, and most of the others have been due to inclusionary zoning.
  • Transfer Charge Home Rule Petition: This proposed legislation, currently with the state legislature, which would need to approve the City’s home rule petition, would assess a 1% fee paid by non-owner-occupant buyers and sellers of real estate. The goal is to capture some of the value generated by speculative development to increase resources for affordable housing development.
  • Housing Rehabilitation Program: Property owners can access 0% interest, deferred payment loans of up to $35,000 to cover repairs, lead abatement, and improvements.
  • Housing Linkage Fee: The Board of Aldermen has voted twice since SomerVision 2030 to raise the housing linkage fee. Most recently, in 2017, the Board voted to assess the fee at $10 per square foot on developments exceeding 30,000 square feet of commercial space. The money raised with this fee can be used to build or rehabilitate affordable housing.
  • Improving health of housing near highways: The Housing Division has been involved in two prior grants studying this issue and is currently working on a Healthy Homes grant awarded to Tufts with the City and Somerville Transportation Equity Partnership to study the efficacy of HVAC systems designed to filtrate particulate matter associated with development near highways.
  • Energy efficiency programs: The Somerville Energy Efficiency Now (SEEN) provided no-cost home energy assessments for residents of all kind, helping them save money on their utility bills.
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