Past Organizing Initiatives and Campaigns

The information here is meant to provide context and background for the work that we are currently doing.

The East Somerville Initiative

Through a community participatory planning process that included 75 small group meetings, 3 large community summits, and over 350 people from the community, the East Somerville community created and adopted the East Somerville Action Plan.

The Action Plan is organized by eight priority topics identified by participants at the first ESI Summit. For each of the topics, a working group met to identify key issues and create a proposal to take back to the community that would include 2-5 action objectives. 

In the end, 27 objectives were proposed to and evaluated by the broader community at the Second Community Summit on June 19, 2007. A Steering Committee of 12 community representatives carefully evaluated the proposals and the community input to create the East Somerville Action Plan that was adopted in the fall of 2007.

General Accomplishments of the ESI as of December 2008

  • Of the 27 objectives, 24 have made progress since the adoption of the plan in October.
  • Of the 24 objectives that have made progress, 14 have made significant progress.
  • All of the community partners who agreed to take a lead role for specific objectives continue to be involved in implementation.

Download the full ESI Report.


Union Square Zoning

In the fall of 2006, Somerville's Board of Aldermen considered a proposal to rezone Union Square. With the help of two real estate consultants, the Affordable Housing Organizing Committee (AHOC) presented two reports demonstrating:

  • The impact of the train line on gentrification
  • A market analysis concluding that a 15 percent inclusionary requirement for affordable housing would present very little economic hardship on developers

Since 2006, the City of Somerville has created three different proposals for changing the zoning in Union Square. For each one, AHOC has consistently pushed for a higher requirement for affordable housing within the proposed zoning districts. Specifically, AHOC has asked for at least 15 percent of all new development to be affordable throughout the rezoned area. 

The City of Somerville's 2008 proposal has increased requirements for inclusionary zoning in some sub-districts that will likely experience the most new development. However, improvements that could still be made in the City of Somerville's proposal include the following:

  • Raising inclusionary zoning for affordable housing from 12.5 percent to at least 15.0 percent in all areas that are not at 15.0 percent or above
  • Using the Somerville median income as a measure of affordability (as opposed to the larger Greater Boston Area Median Income)
  • Getting a commitment from the City to work with residents and AHOC to devise an anti-displacement plan with a special emphasis on low- and moderate-income residents, immigrants, families and renters in general.

Background/Past Activity

Over 100 people attended a public meeting in November 2006 to raise the concern of displacement in Union Square, presenting the message: "Zone for People: Keep Families in Somerville." The Board of Aldermen did not pass the proposed zoning, and requested further analysis. 

During the summer of 2007, AHOC members collected nearly 500 signatures in support of at least 15.0 percent affordable housing in Union Square. In the fall of 2007, the Board of Aldermen let the second rezoning proposal expire without voting on it.

In the spring of 2008, the City invited members of AHOC to participate with other parties in a focus group regarding a new proposal for zoning in Union Square. The proposal that emerged from this process includes some sub-districts with affordable housing requirements of 15.0 percent and 17.5 percent, while the rest of the Square remains at 12.5 percent.


In April 2009, the Somerville Board of Aldermen voted unanimously to approve the proposed rezoning of Union Square.


Mt. Pleasant Apartments: Another 40 Years of Affordability Secured

In early 2008, Somerville Community Corporation (SCC) reinitiated efforts to gather together tenants of the Mount Pleasant Apartments in East Somerville to preserve the affordability of their building. The building has 65 units, and the tenants are senior citizens and people with disabilities. Tenants met monthly to get to know one another and to prepare a campaign for a renewal of affordability guarantees for their building. With the Federal Section 8 contract due to expire in 2011, tenants were concerned about protecting their homes and affordability for future residents. In August 2008, tenants received the news that the property owner received a loan from the Section 8 Preventative Preservation Program to make needed repairs to the elevators and windows. This loan makes it possible for this property to remain affordable for another 40 years.


Mt. Vernon Expiring Use Properties Extended

The Affordable Housing Organizing Committee (AHOC) worked with residents of the Mt. Vernon Street buildings to create the Mt. Vernon Tenant Association. With the backing of a majority of tenants, we garnered support from public officials and other allies who put pressure on the owner to renew the expiring-use contract. Through letters, phone calls and a public meeting attended by 50, the tenants were able to achieve success; the owner renewed for five years.


Linkage Fee Increased

In the Fall of 2004, the Affordable Housing Organizing Committee (AHOC) successfully organized for several months to increase Somerville's linkage fee from $2.60 to $3.91. The linkage fee is a tax placed on commercial properties at the time of development. In Somerville, the money collected from the fee is placed into the Affordable Housing Trust Fund. This fund is used to preserve and create affordable rental and homeownership units in Somerville and carry out programs that directly assist low- and moderate-income homeowners and renters.

The Board of Aldermen unanimously voted to increase the fee from $2.60 to $3.91. This put Somerville on par with Cambridge's $3.20 fee and Boston's $7.28 fee. At the new level, proposed development at Assembly Square will bring in $1.38 million, as opposed to the $919,000 at the current level. In Somerville, fees on new development above 30,000 sq. ft. are collected; for new developments of 50,000 sq. ft., only 20,000 sq. ft. would be taxed.

AHOC members held house meetings with each of the 11 Aldermen to gain support for this change, and mobilized a large turnout at a public hearing on September 30. The Aldermen voted unanimously for increasing the linkage fee.


Crossing McGrath Highway: 2006

Using information gathered through the East Somerville Community Mapping Project and a survey conducted in 2005 of close to 300 people, East Somerville Neighbors for Change (ESNC) discovered that the inability to cross McGrath-O'Brien Highway safely is of concern to this neighborhood for many reasons.

  • A Massachusetts Highway Department study listing the top 1,000 high crash locations in the Commonwealth included four intersections along McGrath-O'Brien Highway in East Somerville, with the intersection of Broadway and McGrath O'Brien ranking 116.
  • To reach Foss Park - an extremely popular family park that is adjacent to the highway - people must cross eight lanes of traffic.
  • The crossing signal lasts only 22 seconds. Given that even fit individuals must walk quickly to cross the highway in this amount of time, it is a dangerous or impossible crossing for the elderly, children, people with disabilities or individuals carrying or pushing objects.
  • McGrath-O'Brien Highway separates pedestrians from jobs, businesses, schools, churches and other community resources.

ESNC campaigned to improve crossing standards for pedestrians along the McGrath-O'Brien Highway, beginning with a public meeting with DCR Deputy Commissioner Hoogeboom and Traffic Engineer Ken Kirwin which 75 people attended. We presented proposed improvements at this meeting, and DCR committed to responding by July 13, 2006. At this meeting, ESNC presented video footage, portraying the hazards of crossing McGrath Highway, taken by East Somerville residents. By August 2006, we received a written explanation of changes they promised to make before the start of school in September 2006.

Ken Kirwin, head of traffic engineering for the department, along with Chief Engineer Noel Paratta, made the change on November 27, 2006. At this time, they increased the crossing time for pedestrians to 32 seconds, which is shy of ESNC's request for 36 seconds, but a marked improvement.


Off the Streets and Into the Gyms: 2004

East Somerville Neighbors for Change (ESNC) launched its first campaign in 2004 in response to inadequate opportunities for youth. Many families cannot afford to send their children to costly after-school programs. Members surveyed over 200 people in East Somerville to assess what kinds of activities for youth would be most suitable. In conversation with the Boys and Girls Club, ESNC drafted a proposal that would create a new, drop-in after school gym program at the East Somerville Community School gym, to be run by the Boys and Girls Club. At a community meeting attended by 75 community members, ESNC presented the proposal to the Mayor. In March of 2005, the program was launched with a percentage of the funding allocated by the City of Somerville. Over 50 youth came the first day, with 50-75 youth coming almost every day after. Free and wildly popular, this became a successful model for the City of Somerville.


Unfortunately, due to a fire at East Somerville Community School, the program no longer exists, as alternative sites have proven to be inadequate. If it were to be reintroduced, an appropriate gym and funding would have to be set aside for the Boys and Girls Club to run it.