Letter to Editor: Keep Union Square Inclusive
The writer, Matan BenYishay, argues for an affordable housing project in Union Square.
The following is written by Matan BenYishay of the Somerville Community Corporation:
"It's going to be tough to find a new place in Somerville. Not everyone can make a ton of dough and afford an expensive place. Working people are getting squeezed out,” a resident at 388 Somerville Ave. recently told me. This low-income resident and his neighbors in the buildings next to Market Basket are searching for new homes in Somerville after their landlord received a permit to knock down their buildings and replace them with luxury condos.
With its restaurants and artists and the extension of the Green Line fast approaching, Somerville's Union Square is drawing new residents. This influx, however, will likely drive prices up for residential and commercial properties, and may drive out some of the same families and small businesses that made Union Square so attractive. The Somerville Community Corp. is proposing to build 45 units of affordable and moderate-income housing at the site of the vacant Boys and Girls Club on Washington Street to help some of these families stay in Somerville.
With SCC's history of developing high-quality, attractive affordable housing, the proposed project at 181 Washington St. will be a great addition to the neighborhood. SCC recently won several awards for the innovative green design and architectural appeal of their Saint Polycarp development near Mystic Avenue. SCC's Washington St. project will house low and moderate-income people, including nurses, teachers, and construction workers.
Affordable housing creates positive impacts for the families that live there as well as for the surrounding community. The MacArthur Foundation recently released reports showing that adequate and affordable housing leads to improved outcomes for health, child development, and economic opportunity for families and communities as a whole.
Without intensive effort by non-profit developers such as SCC, the affordability of Union Square will be lost. The neighborhood currently contains some rental housing that low and moderate-income people can afford. However, these residents are at risk of displacement as speculation increases, as the loss of the buildings at 388 Somerville Ave. shows. These residents will have to scramble to find new homes and may be forced to move out of Somerville entirely.
Though many nearby residents and local businesses are extremely supportive of SCC's proposal, some neighbors are harshly critical. They cite concerns such as decreased property values and a fear of crime.
Research shows affordable housing does not decrease neighborhood property values. A study by Matthew Freedman and Emily Owens found that new affordable housing only slows the rate of property value growth when those values are already growing, and that the effect is slight. Property values that grow slightly less quickly is a small price to pay for keeping Union Square inclusive.
While some neighbors are concerned that an affordable housing development will increase crime, there is no evidence to suggest that this will happen. Freedman and others have found no link between affordable housing and crime. SCC's proven track record of successfully managing its properties through Winn Residential should reassure the community. The resident turnover of SCC's units has been well below market averages, including families that have lived in their apartments for over 15 years. These long-term residents help maintain the stability of their communities.
SCC recently launched a new website for this vision called EveryonesSomerville.org. There, neighbors and business owners share their stories and express their support for affordable housing. To keep Union Square affordable to families, SCC's proposal deserves the public's support. The project will help maintain the diversity and inclusiveness that have made Somerville great.
Matan BenYishay is a former (and hopefully future) Somerville resident and volunteer chair of the Affordable Housing Organizing Committee, which advocates for more affordable housing in Somerville. AHOC receives staffing from SCC but is run by Somerville residents.