Affordable Housing Proposal Proves Divisive

The Somerville Community Corporation’s (SCC) planned affordable housing building in Union Square filled City Hall with people on both sides of the issue at a Monday community meeting.

The group is hoping to build 40 units of affordable housing at 181 Washington Street, the former Boys & Girls Club, eight of which would be designated as Section 8 housing. The SCC is responsible for affordable housing at sites like 33 Bow St. and 110 Walnut St.

Speakers at the hearing had diverging opinions on the proposal, with opponents raising questions about traffic, density and the number of units for the proposed project.

“It seems like in terms of the affordable housing, the new zoning proposals and the current affordable housing percentages … clearly Union bears the huge brunt of those properties,” one speaker said. “The thing that I’d like to protect is Union Square, and if this is such a great proposal, let’s do it in Davis (Square).”

Supporters questioned whether the opposition amounts to not wanting lower income families in their neighborhood. One speaker pointed out that, because the median income bracket of Somerville is around $90,000, the people who would be eligible to live in the building would be earning between $30,000 and approximately $70,000.

“Do we not want people who work in the schools, who maybe work in a moving company, who work in retail — are they not good enough to live with us?” he said.

Michael Nystrom, who lives next to the proposed building, said he had several issues with the plan and ideologically reservations.

“This will obstruct my view,” Nystrom said, adding, “I have an objection to the idea of subsidizing housing because I don’t think it’s a long term solution to anything. When you subsidize something, you get more of it, so if you subsidize poor people, you’ll get more poor people.”

SCC chief executive Danny LeBlanc characterized the eligible tenants as working people and said the building’s income bracket was set to reflect that.

“It ranges up to about $56,000 for a family of four,” LeBlanc said. “So obviously, when you say $56,000 for a family of four, depending on the nature of the family, you could be talking about young teachers, firefighters, cops, you know, people in start-up professional wages.”

LeBlanc said during the hearing that the plan was not final, and that the SCC would take community concerns into account. The plan will need approval from the Planning Board to go forward.

More information about the project can be found at

Share this:

2 Responses to “Affordable Housing Proposal Proves Divisive”

  1. Alex Pirie says:

    It’s a sad commentary that what used to be a working class income is now “low-income!” The reality is that I could not afford to buy the home that I currently own. If I were starting out again, it would have to somewhere else other than Somerville. Full disclosure, I got the gentrification boot from Cambridge in 1978. There is the equivalent of a developers Oklahoma Land Rush going on now that Union Sq. will have a Green Line stop, and I think that affordable housing, lots of affordable housing, is necessary to preserve the solid, get it done, take care of your neighbors working class quality that makes Somerville such a great place to live – so thank you, SCC! If the objectors want nothing but high-end condos, banks, and $1300 handbags, let them go live in Harvard Sq.

  2. [...] plan is controversial. At a recent community meeting, some said Union Square already has its fair share of affordable housing, and that other [...]

Leave a Comment