Somerville may soon see some significant zoning changes that will help to facilitate more development along the city’s main corridors and squares. The sweeping changes would be the biggest that the city has made in nearly 30 years.
Under the proposed changes, the dense city of Somerville hopes that it will be able to encourage further development while also preserving the character that its residents love. The plans would call for using underutilized parcels while also building taller structures to help meet demand.
Since the city’s last zoning overhaul in 1990, the city added around 5,000 new residents. The proposed zoning changes would help the city do its part in meeting the initiative recently agreed upon by 15 area mayors to add 185,000 new housing units in and around the Boston area. While the proposed changes to Somerville’s zoning laws predates this agreement, it will certainly be a consideration when determining whether or not to move forward with the proposed change.
Addressing Housing Needs in Somerville
Whether the zoning changes move forward or not, Somerville has several other initiatives already in place to help address its housing issues. At the head of these initiatives is the Housing Division of the Office of Strategic Planning and Community Development (OSPCD). The Housing Division works to ensure Somerville remains affordable, livable and sustainable by managing funds for affordable housing developments. The Housing Division also works to improve the quality of housing by overseeing a number of programs. Among these programs are:
- Be Somerville Energy Efficient Now (Be SEEN)
- Fair Housing Information
- Heating System Replacement
- Housing Rehabilitation Program
- Inclusionary Housing Program
- Lead Hazard Abatement
- Lead Safe Somerville
- Renewable Energy
The Housing Division also works to help renters and first-time homebuyers. Some of the programs that it offers includes:
- Down Payment Assistance
- First-Time Homebuyer Classes
- Fuel Assistance and Weatherization
- Tenant Rent Stabilization
The Fair Housing Commission plays an integral role in ensuring Somerville’s residents are treated fairly in terms of housing. As such, the commission is responsible for receiving complaints about possible fair housing violations and providing assistance to those who seek help. This may include referring individuals to the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD). The commission also develops educational materials, conducts training and participates in community outreach initiatives to further increase the knowledge and understanding of tenants, landlords, homeowners, lenders, and realtors.
The Housing Rehabilitation Program is also meant to help keep Somerville’s residents safe by providing an incentive for property owners to improve their current housing stock and to maintain affordable homeownership and rental units. As part of the program, funding is offered with 0 percent interest and deferred payment loans. Through this program, property owners can receive assistance for making repairs and improvements to both the interior and exterior of their properties.
In short, Somerville is looking at a variety of options to improve and increase housing opportunities within the city. With the programs currently in place coupled with modified zoning restrictions, the city will take one step further toward meeting its housing demands in a safe and effective way.