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Union Square Affordable Housing Project Joins With Market-Rate Developer

Previously a 40-apartment affordable housing project, a proposed housing development in Union Square now includes a market-rate 44-unit apartment building.

A proposed affordable housing project in Union Square that drew bitter opposition from some in the neighborhood has morphed into something different.

The Somerville Community Corporation, the non-profit group behind the affordable housing project, has teamed up with Cathartes Private Investments, a real estate developer, to propose a new two-building project that includes both affordable and market-rate apartments.

The new project would include the already-proposed 40-unit affordable housing complex at 181 Washington, the site of the former Boys & Girls Club.

It would be built alongside a five-story, 44-unit market-rate apartment complex at 197 Washington St., the site of Cota Struzziero McKenna Funeral Home.

Both buildings would have retail space on the first floor.

At a meeting about the new proposal held Tuesday night at the Argenziano School, Jim Goldenberg, principal at Cathartes, said, "We are really excited about this project." He added he thinks it would "make a positive impact on this neighborhood and this city."

Cathartes has previously developed buildings in Somerville, including 150 Innerbelt Rd. and 70 Innerbelt Rd. It's also developed several office, hotel and residential spaces in Boston and around the Northeast, according to its website.

Although the new proposal would consist of two buildings, Adam Dash, an attorney representing the developers, said at Tuesday's meeting the development will go before Somerville's planning board as one project. He added the developers haven't officially filed an application with the city yet; they plan to do so after more community meetings.

One possible hurdle the project would have to surmount is getting permission from the Somerville Historic Preservation Commission.

Dick Bauer, chair of the Historic Preservation Commission, said Tuesday the commission determined, in December, the Cota Struzziero McKenna Funeral Home is historically significant.

He said there will be a public hearing about the matter on Feb. 19, and afterward the commission would determine if maintaining the building is "preferable."

Dash said, "We're committed to working with Historic Preservation on this."

At Tuesday's meeting, some Union Square residents expressed concerns about the size and scale of the project and the amount of parking there. With 84 parking spots planned for 84 apartments, some felt there wasn't enough parking, while others thought there was too much.

Dash said the project falls under new zoning codes in Union Square that seek to encourage larger, transit-oriented development.

Ward 3 Alderman Thomas Taylor, speaking Tuesday night, said about the project, "We're in the beginning stages here, so there's a long way to go."

Related stories

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Bitter Union Square Affordable Housing Dispute to Go Through Mediation

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Affordable Housing Proposal in Union Square Causes Conflict

Letter to Editor: Keep Union Square Inclusive

Blog Supports Affordable Housing Project in Union Square

Is There a Class Divide in Somerville?

Matt C February 06, 2013 at 03:00 PM
Now everyone wins, The SCC gets 40 units of 100% subsidized housing and the developer gets 44 units of market rate and does not have to follow 40b.
J L February 06, 2013 at 03:14 PM
Wasn't one of the original criticisms of the SCC project that it was too dense for the neighborhood? An additional 44 units makes the project less dense?
Rob Buchanan February 06, 2013 at 03:15 PM
The real-estate developer committed to including subsidized housing in addition to the SCC units.
Matt C February 06, 2013 at 03:50 PM
So union sq, gets 80 some odd units new housing with < 56% of the people living there could actually afford to live there without state and city subsidies... awesome I hope this trend keeps up. I know I would jump at the chance to buy a market rate unit when 2/3s of my neighbors are subsidized.-- sarcasm -- Math: (15% of 44 = 7 + 40 = 47 subsidized units. 47/84= 56% subsidized) (Assume 15% subsidized units)
Kristen Z February 06, 2013 at 05:03 PM
Everyone wins ... except for all of the abutters whose views, light and air will be blocked by these new buildings which will be at least 50 feet tall (and up to 80). For those of us who live nearby and who have already invested in Union Square, all of a sudden our own property values will drop. So much for our affordable housing.
Rob Buchanan February 06, 2013 at 05:30 PM
I think the price of market-rate units that are in a complex with a large number of affordable units would be less than the price of market-rate units off on there own. I think this creates more of a "mixed-income" development rather than appealing strictly to the higher-end condo market. I guess it's a matter of opinion as to whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. The private developer seems to believe there is a demand for this kind of mixed-income market-rate housing, and I tend to agree. I support the development of a diversity of housing options with a combination of amenities and price-points that appeal to buyers with different incomes. I suppose, if there is demand, the developer might consider including a few "penthouse" style condos to capture some high-earners--although I'm not sure they would even want to live on busy Washington Street in Union Square. Maybe?
J L February 06, 2013 at 06:51 PM
Matt - my guess is the vast majority of new housing in Union Square and Boyton Yards (including the new 14 unit building on Prospect St that was featured in another article) will be market rate. I don't think SCC can afford to buy more than one property and develop it. At most, you'll probably see the standard 15%-20% affordable within the larger developments as is standard throughout the city.
Matt C February 06, 2013 at 07:04 PM
I'm sure there will always be a demand for housing in desirable areas below market rates for people who want to live places they cannot afford... as long as we are willing to subsidize their lifestyle...right?
Matt C February 06, 2013 at 07:08 PM
Kristen, it sounds like your are being selfish. Think about all the people who want to live in your neighborhood, but cannot today. By lowering your property value they are making homes in the whole neighborhood more inclusive and affordable!
Matt C February 06, 2013 at 07:26 PM
JL I expect you are right, at least for any 6+ unit development. I'm am just poorly describing my distaste for overloading a new business district with subsidized housing. I think the current rates of 15-20% are both achievable and sufficient..
Lynn February 06, 2013 at 07:29 PM
This development is troubling on many levels.
Joe B February 06, 2013 at 07:39 PM
If the 40B rule states only 15% has to be designated affordable... How can a combined 84 unit building end up with 56% subsidized? I know if I lived on Boston, Washington or anywhere within a 2 block radius of this proposed monstrosity I'd be screaming from the top of prospect hill. This sounds like nothing more than a smoke and mirrors play typical of the SCC (government thieves). To the folks who oppose this development, it sounds like there is a play to be made at the planning board level regarding 56% of the building being designated affordable. You've got two scenarios, move out of dodge, or higher an attorney and fight the development from the stance of it being combined which skews the zoning laws. Make them build as two separate developments without shared parking and the development becomes a whole lot less desirable for those hoping to get their hands in the cookie jar.
Rob Buchanan February 06, 2013 at 07:52 PM
Matt: Exactly right. There's a strong sentiment, among folks who have lived in Somerville their whole lives, as well as newcomers, that Somerville remain affordable. I can't tell you how many times I've heard from people who say their children can't afford to stay in the community where they grew up. Faced with growing demand for housing, there's only so many ways to keep Somerville affordable: more housing supply, denser housing stock, and/or subsidized units. Some of the new transit projects and zoning changes aim to promote more housing supply and denser land-use (both are hot topics). Other strategies (for example low-income housing tax credits) promote subsidized housing. The friction, as you and others point out, is that not everyone believes affordability is a worthy goal in the first place, and those who do don't necessarily agree on what strategies are best.
Matt C February 06, 2013 at 08:11 PM
Rob, you are right about the controversy... I think that the question is less about a fear of affordability, and rather a fear of change. The past 30 years have seen Somerville change dramatically. No longer the blue collar backwater of slummerville the direction of the city is that of a middle income destination and place to live. This is hard for long time residents. Though those that bought homes for 20 and 30k in the 60s can now sell for 20-50x what they paid for them it doesn't mean their kids have the money to but them. I am 100% for increasing density and enabling smart growth and I am against overzealous use of subsidized housing... mostly because I believe people should live where they can afford not where they want. I would like the focus of the city to be on growth and development, about how we grow our existing urban centers (Union/Davis) and rekindle those that are struggling (Magoun/lower Broadway)
Lynn February 06, 2013 at 08:20 PM
Matt for Mayor!
MAS February 08, 2013 at 08:47 PM
Matt C could you explain what you mean by "increasing density"? Maybe I am misunderstanding you. I didnt think Somerville could get any more densely populated. Dont we ALREADY have that reputation? ...And I don't believe it's something to brag about. I do not wish to live in a town with little green space, where trash lines the streets on moving day because there is so much turn over, and where the heavy snarl of power lines pollute my view. Just a few indicators we are too densely populated.

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