Union Square residents demand seat at negotiating table


Housing activists want more say in neighborhood redevelopment

Wicked Local Somerville | By Erin Tiernan
October 5, 2016

On $1,800 a month, 72-year-old Mary White isn’t sure she’ll be able to afford to move back into Union Square after the city takes her house for its redevelopment plans – and she isn’t alone.

More than 250 residents signed onto a petition demanding a public hearing with the Board of Aldermen to address their concerns with displacement following the billion-dollar renovation of Union Square. White handed the petition in, flanked by about 10 members of the neighborhood activist group Union United, at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday morning.

“We’re dropping off this petition to be involved in the community benefits agreement for Union Square to make sure it takes care of the people who have made Somerville as strong as she is,” White said. “We’re very concerned about displacement and affordable living for people in our community.”

Market rate for a two-bedroom apartment in White’s neighborhood costs more than $2,300 a month – well above what White said she can afford.

A neighborhood plan for the square, OK’d by the Planning Board in May, would serve as a framework for third-party developer US2. The blueprint includes plans for 4 million square feet of new commercial development, 546,000 square feet of new retail space and more than 15,000 new jobs. The plans also include 2,349 new housing units, of which 470 units – or about 20 percent – would be affordable.

But in a neighborhood where more than 36 percent of residents are rent-burdened—meaning they commit more than 30 percent of their income to housing—and where the population grew by more than 5 percent over the last decade – experts said that might not be enough.

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