My grassroots campaign and I have been knocking doors throughout Ward 3, listening to the issues that matter most to our neighbors. Here are some of the issues that I see as top priorities for Somerville:
Keeping somerville affordable
Housing affordability is the most serious challenge facing Somerville, and can be an incredibly difficult issue to address effectively. Yet, I believe we could be fighting much harder to keep Somerville a place we can all live and work.
In particular, we should be doing everything we can to encourage the creation of new mixed income housing. At the same time, we should be discouraging quick profits from speculation, house flipping, and “investment properties.” We must also be proactive in protecting those who are facing displacement.
One way to improve housing affordability is to encourage commercial development. New commercial development is an important way to generate revenue for the city, through both taxes and linkage fees, and this revenue can then be used directly to fund housing affordability programs. I will always keep housing affordability as a central concern in my role as an Alderman.
The creation of a new Office of Housing Stability or similar body in Somerville to provide resources and services for tenants and landlords to keep housing affordable.
Levying more aggressive transfer taxes for speculators and house flippers.
Increasing our affordable housing requirement ("inclusionary zoning") to 25% for new developments.
Strengthening our condo-conversion ordinance and its enforcement to prevent illegal evictions and increase support for renters who would be displaced.
Pushing for aggressive regulation of short-term rentals like Airbnb, including taxes, strict owner-occupancy requirements and rental period limits.
Creative ways to make housing more inclusive, including community land trusts, cooperative housing and renters unions.
Smart Streets and Parking
When it comes to traffic and parking, my top priority will always be to make sure that our neighborhoods are safe, walkable, and accessible for residents of all ages. I will advocate for proven strategies to increase safety so that our streets remain pleasant and accessible for pedestrians, automobiles, and bicyclists. 30% of our residents take mass transit each day, and a growing number walk or bike to work. As someone who bikes to work each day, I’ve been deeply concerned by the multiple bike fatalities over the past few years, and I will work to improve safety for all commuters as new developments come to Somerville. Strategies such as Vision Zero, recently embraced by several neighboring towns, offer comprehensive plans for commuting safety, and I will advocate for full implementation of such policies here.
Improving Somerville’s system for reporting traffic safety concerns, so that we can rapidly address areas of concern.
Making sure that changes in traffic patterns and bike routes are clearly indicated by new signage.
Prioritizing safety over speed - a proven strategy to reduce the severity of traffic accidents.
Promoting and educating the public on common-sense bike safety; prioritizing designated bike lanes over “sharrows” and increasing available bike parking.
Increased enforcement of our laws regarding texting while driving.
Development that works for all of us
I believe that development without displacement is attainable when our community, rather than for-profit real estate developers, leads the process. I will push for policies that give the community a strong voice in new housing and commercial developments. Public engagement is the best way to ensure transparency and that we get the kinds of development our city needs.
Somerville recently increased the affordable housing requirement for new large developments to 20%. That is a step in the right direction, but we can be more ambitious when it comes to inclusionary zoning. We must also be prepared to aggressively push back against developers who seek exemptions that only benefit their bottom line.
I will fight to:
Ensure that new developments include negotiating a robust community benefits agreement with the community.
Make big developers and housing speculators pay their share when it comes to infrastructure projects that they benefit from, including flood mitigation and sewage, public transportation improvements, and greenspace.
Keep greenspace centrally located and in close proximity to new developments.
Reform the process for decision-making on developments to make it more accountable to the community, such as requiring that appointed bodies such as the Planning Board accept public comment and respond directly to questions from the community.
Strengthen and enforce our condo conversion laws, to protect renters and to disincentivize this practice, which harms affordability.
Penalize developers who fail to develop within a reasonable timeframe, leaving empty lots and causing the City to forego needed tax revenue.
Engaged Neighborhood Leadership
The residents of Ward 3 are engaged, active, and civic-minded. Our constituents are our greatest resource, and deserve to be informed about, and involved in, decisions that affect our neighborhood. As a scientist and as a community organizer, I know the importance of collaboration and making sure that all perspectives are considered. That is why I will always be available, proactive and transparent. I’ll reach out at the earliest stages of planning to make sure every voice is heard, and I’ll continually communicate important votes, decisions and deliberations as they arise. I’m running a grassroots campaign, and community input will be a cornerstone of how I would lead as your representative.
Maintain a newsletter and website to communicate the major decisions taken by the Board of Aldermen and subcommittees, and continually solicit input from residents about upcoming deliberations.
Advocate that city-appointed boards hold open meetings, accept public comment, respond directly to questions from the community, and distribute plans and proposals far enough in advance for the public to have time to read them.
Support the work of the Union Square Neighborhood Council, and encourage the creation of similar democratic groups to form across the city. I will push for our City’s excellent communications tools and translation services to be made available for disseminating information about meetings and activities.
Encourage better, two-way communication between the City and resident-abutters when potentially disruptive infrastructure or landscaping projects are being considered.
A Sustainable Local Economy
A strong and fair local economy starts with secure jobs that pay dignified wages. And in addition to providing jobs, a thriving commercial industry in Somerville will provide critical new tax revenue for the city, thereby helping reduce taxes on homeowners. This is the promise of new commercial development in Somerville - good new jobs, and increased revenue for the city that will help alleviate property taxes. Yet as we encourage commercial development here, we must always ensure that these businesses hire locally, use fair labor practices, and pay dignified wages. If we do not continually fight for these values, Somerville will not achieve the promised benefits of commercial development.
Increased support for the First Source Jobs Program, a comprehensive employment support initiative that connects Somerville residents with job training, workforce readiness skills, and local employers.
Negotiating commitments from all new businesses to maximize local hiring.
Ensuring that new commercial development prioritizes growing industries and high-quality office space, which brings in higher taxes to the City than retail development.
Forward-looking infrastructure investments such as citywide broadband networks. Just as electricity transformed local economies around the country, universal high-speed internet has the potential to do so today.
Standing with organized labor in their fight for economic justice, so that Somerville workers are able to negotiate fair contracts in a timely manner.
Closing the Educational Achievement Gap
As someone who has benefitted immensely from a public school education, I believe that neighborhood schools are the backbone of our community, and of our society. I will always be a strong advocate for teachers and students, and I am inspired by the leadership of Superintendent Skipper and our School Committee. Our public school system is diverse, inclusive and thriving; a top priority that remains is to address the issues underlying the persistent achievement gap in our schools.
Investing in new programs and resources for students who do not thrive in traditional learning environments, including increased programming for students on the autism spectrum, and support for new public innovation schools such as the Powderhouse Studios.
Developing new partnerships with the world-class colleges and universities that surround us, providing students with exciting opportunities to get ahead. In particular, I will work to promote such partnerships in the STEM fields, as this is my area of expertise, as well as a rapidly growing industry in the area.
Continued strong budgetary support for our schools, including expanding our SMILE program (universal Pre-K) to a full-day program and offering after-school programs for families under financial strain.
Serving our Senior Community
Our seniors are a vital part of our community. Issues like housing speculation and displacement can be particularly urgent for seniors, whether they just arrived in Somerville or have spent their whole lives in the same house. I will be a responsive and attentive representative in Ward 3 and will be a strong advocate for programs that help seniors age in place and access the services they need.
I will advocate for:
Reducing tax burdens for seniors on a fixed income.
Continuing senior circuit breaker tax credits.
Programs that increase intergenerational community building like the Teen Snow Shoveling Program and Powderhouse Studios.
Investing in Somerville’s Green Future
Somerville has committed to a Net Zero Carbon by 2050 agreement, the city is developing a Climate Change Plan, and has committed to a green future in its SomerVision plan. What we need now is to ensure that we are making sustainable decisions that achieve those targets. Some examples particularly relevant to Ward 3 include the Nunziato Stormwater Project and the proposed natural-gas heating system as part of plans for the new high school building.
I will advocate for:
Flood mitigation systems that treat water as a resource rather than a costly waste, including permeable driveways and pavements, roof catchment, water gardens, improved tree-wells, artificial wetlands, and living-wastewater treatment systems.
Raising public awareness about the win-win investments in home solar panels that can offset energy costs for homeowners as well as for renters through Community Solar projects such as the one recently built in Davis Square.
Maximizing the creation or protection of green spaces and parks in future developments, including community growing spaces and thriving urban ecosystems.
Expanding access to Somerville’s home composting program by offering discounts to low-income residents and fixed-income seniors.
A Welcoming Community for All
There are 52 languages spoken in our public schools. Our community is culturally and economically diverse and we are very proud of that diversity. We are proud to be a Sanctuary City, but we could be doing a lot more to make sure immigrants are not only protected, but have the tools they need to thrive in our community.
Creation of municipal IDs. Muni IDs provide a valid form of identification to access basic municipal and private services that require a form of photo ID. Municipal IDs have been widely adopted in other cities nationwide, including New York, Chicago, and San Francisco.
Increasing access to free English language services and adult education, which we can achieve by increasing funding for the city’s many ESL classes, adult education programs like SCALE, and The Welcome Project.
Expanding bilingual programs in our schools, such as the UNIDOS dual-language program.
Improving the availability of multilingual services for city meetings and communications.
Caught up on issues? See who is on board with Ben and the campaign.