Poll: Does Affordable Housing Have a Bad Name?
A debate about an affordable housing development in Union Square centers on a fundamental disagreement about one question: Are high-density affordable housing buildings good or bad for neighborhoods? (See poll at bottom.)
Last week, a group of Union Square residents picketed a community meeting about a planned affordable housing development in the neighborhood.
The development, proposed by Somerville Community Corporation, would convert the former Boys & Girls Club building at 181 Washington St. into 40 units of affordable rental housing.
One of the fundamental disagreements about the project has to do with the nature of affordable housing. The Somerville Community Corporation, a non-profit, is dedicated to supporting affordable housing initiatives because it believes a diverse housing stock leads to a stronger community.
Members of Union Square Rising, the opposition group, say affordable housing is fine, but in moderation. Too much of it, concentrated in one neighborhood, is a bad thing, they say.
On Somerville Patch, some readers grappled with this issue.
One commenter, Matt C, said of Union Square Rising's position, "They are not saying they do not want to see any affordable housing options, rather their issue is primarily with density of affordable housing … a building with 40 units all of which is 'affordable' no longer is another apartment building—it is a housing project, which people looking to move to an area consider a negative, kinda like a major highway or power lines. They all serve a purpose but you probably, given a choice, would not choose to live next to one."
James had a different outlook. "Somerville is becoming increasingly unaffordable, largely because demand so exceeds supply," he wrote. "We must build more, preferably in smart growth areas like Davis and Union. Further, we can't only build luxury condos like Maxwell['s] Green … More supply—and more diverse supply—will allow younger people like me to follow their dreams in Somerville rather than leave to pursue them elsewhere."
In other words, when it comes to affordable housing, some think, The more, the merrier; others think, There's such a thing as too much.
What do you think? Are relatively dense affordable housing developments good or bad for neighborhoods in Somerville? (See poll below.)
Some other things to consider
Commenters raised a few issues and questions.
What sort of affordable housing?
Some people wanted to know what sort of affordable housing units would be in the Somerville Community Corporation's Boys & Girls Club development.
Danny LeBlanc, speaking last week after the community meeting, said the numbers are not "set in stone yet," but he said about eight of the 40 units would be "project based Section 8" units. Section 8 is a federally managed program that offers rental assistance to low-income tenants.
The most common form of Section 8 assistance, "tenant-based" Section 8, comes in the form of vouchers which low-income tenants can take with them if they move.
However, LeBlanc said the Union Square development would contain "project based" Section 8 units, which mean the rental assistance stays with the apartment, no matter who lives there.
The rest of the apartments would be low-income tax credit units, LeBlanc said.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's website explains how this works: The developer, in this case the Somerville Community Corporation, is granted tax credits to build housing units for low-income residents. The developer sells those credits to an investor, who puts up money for the project. As a result of this investment, the developer has to borrow less to build the apartments, which means the developer can rent them out at a lower rate. The investor, in turn, can use the tax credits to directly lower the investor's tax bill.
LeBlanc said apartments would be reserved for people who make a maximum of 60 percent of the area median income. In 2011 numbers, that breaks down in the following way, according to a flier supplied by Somerville Community Corporation:
- Household of one: $41,000
- Household of two: $46,980
- Household of three: $52,860
- Household of four: $58,680
- Household of five: $63,420
Would apartments be for Somerville people?
Those who want to live in the development will submit an application, and there will be a lottery to determine who gets to live there.
LeBlanc said, "For 70 percent of the units, we will draw only Somerville names."
In other words, he said, of the 40 units, 28 will be for people from Somerville.
The flier handed out by the Somerville Community Corporation tells a slightly different story. It says "Most units will be 'workforce' housing'" and that "70 percent of workforce housing units will be reserved for people who live or work in Somerville."