May Newsletter

This month’s newsletter will mostly focus on the important changes to the proposed transfer fee home rule petition that is presently before the Board of Alderman. There is a lot of misinformation out there on this issue. I want to help set the record straight and talk about why I support the transfer fee and this petition. But, first of all, I want to say a big thank you to Alderman Hirsch for her excellent revisions that have now been incorporated into the current draft of the petition. The newly revised version simply and elegantly protects Somerville resident homeowners while shifting the burden of the fee squarely onto developers and speculators, where it belongs. Updates to the Transfer Fee Petition Alderman Hirsch’s proposal, which the board has now incorporated into our working draft, exempts owner-occupant sellers from paying the transfer fee. All buyers who intend to occupy their new properties for 2 years or more will be exempt as well. This ensures that the burden of this minimal fee will not even fall on the people who actually live in the home they own in Somerville. So who pays the transfer fee? Developers, speculators, and absentee landlords! If the person or company selling the property has not been an owner-occupant for at least two years, they must pay a 1% transfer fee on the sale. In addition, if the buyer/developer will not be living in the property, they must pay a 1% transfer fee. So, if a sale occurs between two developers/speculators/absentee landlords, there will be a total of 2% collected by the city. If the seller is an owner-occupant, but the buyer is a developer, then just the buyer/developer will pay 1%. And, if an owner-occupant seller sells to an owner-occupant buyer, neither of them pays any fee! Key Takeaways: Though we don’t yet have firm revenue estimates from the city, I expect that the revenue raised by this revised version of the fee will be roughly the same as that of the original plan. But, it accomplishes this while placing the burden where it belongs! All money from the transfer fee will go to the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund which is run by a board with good people on it, such as Alderman Ewen-Campen. To ensure their good work, I will also introduce a resolution in the future that asks that board to be audited yearly by an independent auditor that is not a city staff for better accountability and transparency. I heard in the testimony that people did not trust this board, and I want to make sure it is transparent and accountable to address those concerns. The Somerville Affordable Housing Trust Fund (SAHTF) was created in 1989 by a City ordinance to preserve and create affordable rental and homeownership units in Somerville, and to carry out programs to directly assist homeowners and renters. All of its activities must benefit low to moderate income households (with incomes at or below 110% of area median income). Find out more about it HERE. Owner-Occupants don’t have to pay this tax! You can transfer your property to an immediate family member without having the pay the transfer fee as well! These funds will enable the city to create dramatically more permanently affordable housing here in the city. The transfer fee is a necessary and important first step to help ensure that this generation’s working and middle class can call Somerville their home. Without this transfer fee, the city will be merely paying lip service to affordability and anti-displacement efforts. Money is needed to actually make affordable housing plans a reality. We need to pass this petition now and advocate for its swift approval at the State legislature! Another public hearing has been scheduled to permit the public to offer testimony on the latest version of the Transfer Fee Home Rule Petition. It will be at City Hall on Monday, May 7th @ 6:00pm. Please come out and voice your opinion. Let’s make developers pay their fair share! You can read the full text of the current draft of the petitionby following this link: https://www.somervillema.gov/departments/proposed-transfer-fee-home-rule-petition     2) Public Hearing on Affordable Housing in Somerville- Monday, April 30th I was truly moved by the heart wrenching stories offered of people’s struggles to live and stay in Somerville. It was particularly disturbing how minorities and people of color are being squeezed by this affordability crisis in our city. We have to do a better job. Regina Bertoldo, district homeless liaison for Somerville Public Schools, talked of the more than $200,000 per year spent to transport homeless students from temporary housing outside of the city back to their classrooms. Her testimony on the struggles of students who became homeless and were forced to sleep in the parks both saddened and angered me. How could we let this happen in our community where there is so much wealth and prosperity? I wanted to thank all of the ordinary citizens and community experts that offered testimony. I promise to fight hard to find solutions that help with affordability. Listening to the testimony offered at this public hearing really hit home with why we need the transfer fee as step 1 in taking action on affordability. For more details, read this excellent article on the hearing.        3) Spring Resistat meetings are here! Stay informed with what is going on in the city and your ward/neighborhood. Below is the information offered by the city about Spring Resistat meetings:   Spring 2018 ResiStat Meeting Schedule                 Meetings run from 6:30 to 8 p.m., with refreshments at 6 p.m.                           Spring 2018 ResiStat Meeting Schedule          Meetings run from 6:30 to 8 p.m., with refreshments at 6 p.m.   Ward 6: Tuesday, May 8, TAB Building Senior Center Room, 167 Holland St. Ward 5: Monday, May 14, Kennedy School, 5 Cherry St. Ward 7: Monday, May 14, West Somerville Neighborhood School, 177 Powder House Blvd. Ward 1: Wednesday, May 30, East Somerville Community School Auditorium, 50 Cross St. Ward 2: Tuesday, May 22, Argenziano School, 290 Washington St. Ward 4: Thursday, May 31, Healey School, 5 Meacham St. Ward 3: Tuesday, June 5, Somerville High School Library, 81 Highland Ave. (enter through the Field House doors)   Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone and the Board of Aldermen invite residents to the Spring 2018 ResiStat Community Meetings, a twice-yearly effort to share the latest City news, data, and neighborhood updates directly with residents and gather their feedback. ResiStat is more than a great way to get an overview of what’s happening specifically in your neighborhood as well as citywide. The social time before and after the meetings also offer an easy opportunity to talk one-on-one with the Mayor, your Aldermen, and City staff and police—and to connect with your neighbors. (We serve pizza and kid-friendly, healthy snacks to make it more fun to come and chat.) Refreshments will be served at a meet-and-greet before each meeting. Interpretation into Spanish, Portuguese, and Haitian Creole will be provided at every meeting. For more information about ResiStat, or with any questions, contact ResiStat Coordinator, Meghann Ackerman, at MAckerman@somervillema.gov or 617-625-6600 ext. 2120.   So many exciting things happening in our city. I am excited to be a part of positive change! Your Public Servant,   Will Mbah   Always feel free to reach out over email to sign up for the newsletter or to ask questions/voice concerns at aldermanmbah@gmail.com or call me at 508-718-8126.   Continue reading

February Newsletter

February 2018 Newsletter It has been an exciting first month in office for me. I am getting up to speed on the pressing issues facing the board but this time from the perspective of an elected official, not just a private citizen/activist. I am learning so much, and I am also making sure that my voice is heard on behalf of the people. This newsletter will give you updates on city business, and also encourage you to weigh in and give your feedback to the city so we can be the change we want to see.   1) City-wide Zoning Overhaul- Your input is wanted/needed! The Mayor’s office has officially released its proposed Citywide Zoning Overhaul, and is asking for community input. There is a dedicated website: www.somervillezoning.com, where you can see the proposed map and regulations, and learn about the details. In addition, the website also contains the thinking behind the overhaul and the process by which the city will go about approving/voting on the changes. You can find where your property falls in the city’s Zoning Atlas.    You can find out more information at an upcoming public hearing too: On Tuesday, February 13, 2018, at 6:00 p.m. in the Aldermanic Chambers on the Second Floor of Somerville City Hall, 93 Highland Avenue, the City Administration will introduce the code, provide an overview, and highlight the differences between the proposed 2018 overhaul and the 2015 version;   Ways to get your voice heard! There is a 'CiviComment' page (https://somerville.civicomment.org/) at the zoning website where you can leave input. This allows for people to comment directly on specific items in the code, and lets everybody see and discuss each other's comments. In addition, you can also offer your thoughts by emailing the Planning Board at planning@somervillema.gov. These comments will be shared with the BOA as well. Finally, you can contribute by offering comments at the public hearing on Tuesday, March 13, 2018, at 6:00 p.m. in the Aldermanic Chambers on the Second Floor of Somerville City Hall, 93 Highland Avenue. 2) Transfer Tax for Affordable Housing in Somerville: State Representative Mike Connolly has proposed legislation at the state-level that would allow cities to enact taxes on real estate transactions. This legislation would allow cities in Massachusetts, like Somerville, to pass a real estate transfer tax ranging from .5 to 2% on speculation in the market and have the funds go directly to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund in Somerville! The board needs this legislation to pass on the state level in order to enact our very own transfer fee. Check out the favorable reviews his legislation has received thus far: http://www.repmikeconnolly.org/rep_mike_connolly_real_estate_transfer_fee_gets_favorable_committee_report 3) Clarendon apartments This is a complex development with many moving parts involving low income residents and their representatives (Clarendon Resident United) and developers (Somerville Community Corporation (SCC), Preservation of Affordable Housing (POAH) and RedGates. I attended one of several public meetings with huge turnout (pictured attached) where residents continue to express their concerns. I was pleased to hear very thoughtful comments from our Board President and Ward 7 Alderman Katjana Ballantyne about the need for further conversation between the developers and the residents to come to a reasonable and achievable compromise. This affordable housing remake is desperately needed, but it also clear that we need to support our Clarendon residents and fellow Somerville neighbors in this process. More updates to come as this situation progresses. Follow the project on clarendonhill.org. 4) Draw Seven State Park- Again, your input is needed/wanted! There was a community/public meeting on February 5th at the East Somerville Community School that detailed the possible options for developing the Draw Seven State Park (next to Assembly). Here is a link to that night’s presentation: https://www.mass.gov/service-details/draw-seven-park There was a great turnout at the meeting, including all the Aldermen at Large, Ward One Alderman Matt McLaughlin, and State Rep Mike Connolly. Neighbors and community members expressed their concerns, and the public is welcome to provide comments. The deadline for receipt of comments by the Department of Conservation and Recreation is Monday, Feb. 26, 2018. Comments may be submitted online at https://www.mass.gov/forms/dcr-public-comments or by writing to the Department of Conservation and Recreation, Office of Public Outreach, 251 Causeway Street, 6th Floor, Boston, MA 02114. 5) It’s About Time! Board of Aldermen to become City Council It was nice to see a proposal come onto the floor Thursday night that requested we change our official title to that of “City Council” instead of the outdated and gendered “Board of Aldermen”. I 100% support this change- it is common sense and long overdue. The matter should be simple and straightforward and not take up a lot of the board’s time either (so many pressing issues!). The name change will not alter our roles or official duties in any way.   Next newsletter I will look to provide updates on the newly recognized USNC (Union Square Neighborhood Council), Net Neutrality and progress with the Housing Hackathon being led by Alderman Stephanie Hirsch. Please reach out and forward this email to anyone who would want to sign up for updates on what is happening in the city.   Your Public Servant,   Will Mbah   Always feel free to reach out over email aldermanmbah@gmail.com or call me at 508-718-8126.  

January 10th Newsletter

January, 2018 Newsletter It was with great honor and pride that I was officially sworn into office as Alderman-at-large of the great city of Somerville on New Year’s Day! I am both humbled and excited about the opportunity to serve the city that I love. You have my promise that I will work hard to understand all of the issues and challenges affecting the city, and that I will always put the community first in every decision I make as your alderman. I am excited by all of the new faces on the board, and think we have a lot that we can achieve working together. News and Updates:   1) Mayor’s Inaugural Address:   I was very encouraged by what I heard from Mayor Curtatone during his inaugural address. The mayor laid out a 10 point plan to help with housing and affordability in Somerville and called for bold action. Many of the ideas that the mayor called for were ones I championed on the campaign trail: Community Land Trusts, a Real Estate Transfer Tax, and the Right of First Refusal/Right to Purchase for Tenants. I encourage you to read the full speech for yourself here https://www.somervillema.gov/inaugural2018. I will be excited to see what we can accomplish together on some of these bold initiatives. Somerville needs forward thinking action on issues of housing and affordability. 2) A Call to Action: Make a Phone Call For Tenant’s Right to Purchase   Please consider picking up the phone to call the chairs of the State Housing Committee to support Rep. Denise Provost’s bill “An Act to Preserve Affordable Housing Through a Local Option Tenant’s Right to Purchase.” The legislation, also co-sponsored by Rep. Mike Connolly, gives the state the power to grant municipalities like Somerville the authority to begin exploring Tenant’s Right to Purchase and Community Housing Trust Funds that financially support those tenants. If you are unfamiliar with Tenant’s Right to Purchase, it grant tenants of residential buildings with three or more units the right of first refusal to purchase such buildings at fair market value if they are being sold. This keeps rents lower and allows local community members to stay and avoid displacement. They collectively finance the building with 5% down payment and possible support from a city housing trust fund. See the flyer below for more details on how you can get involved with this important cause. 3)Committee Assignments:   I am happy to announce I will serve on the following committees:   Confirmation of Appointments and Personnel Licenses and Permits (Vice Chairman) Traffic and Parking Open Space, Environment, and Energy (Chairman) Flood Forum (Special Committee)   I look forward to bringing my experience and background in environmental science to my first chairmanship on the Open Space, Environment, and Energy committee.   4) Union Square Neighborhood Council   Community elections were held for the first ever Union Square Neighborhood Council. The council will represent the people of the community as they negotiate with the city and the developer responsible for the Union Square project, US2. Congratulations to all of those that won a seat! I believe this model of a democratically elected board from the community that gets to play a role in shaping the development of their community has great promise. Community-led development is a must for Somerville moving forward.   5) First Board of Alderman Meeting: Thursday, January 11th.   I am excited for my first BOA official meeting this Thursday. I have already submitted a board order together with Alderman Stephanie Hirsch that the Director of SPCD report to the board on what he is doing to preserve minority-owned businesses in the city. I look forward to hearing the findings and will take appropriate action to preserve the diversity in our business communities that makes Somerville so great.   The meeting will stream live on the internet, and will be stored online, in a searchable format, at the City of Somerville’s Board of Aldermen’s meeting portal, http://somervillecityma.iqm2.com/Citizens/Default.aspx.   I am learning fast about all of the roles and responsibilities of an alderman, and I am excited by this opportunity. Looking forward: Look for an update on a Housing Data Hackathon being co-hosted by myself and Alderman Stephanie Hirsch to explore housing data in Somerville and envision possible creative solutions.   Please share my email newsletter with friends and neighbors, and ask them to sign up (email me at aldermanmbah@gmail.com) and hold me accountable on my campaign promises!   Your Public Servant,   Will Mbah   Always feel free to reach out over email aldermanmbah@gmail.com or call me at 508-718-8126.