Managing Neighborhood Change in Somerville and Beyond

On Tuesday, March 4, Somerville residents gathered at the Argenziano School with Senator Patricia Jehlen, Representative Denise Provost, aldermen, and community partners for the third and final installment of a forum series on housing. Hosted by MAPC, the Somerville Community Corporation (SCC), and the City of Somerville, the series spanned a month and ranged in topics from family housing to gentrification and displacement.

Rachel Bratt, a professor at Tufts University, kicked off the series on February 4 with a discussion of what constitutes family-friendly housing—affordable, good quality, safe, comfortable, transit-oriented, and accessible to good schools—and how the City and its community partners can develop more of it.

On February 11, Tim Reardon, assistant director of Data Services at MAPC, followed up with the release of “Dimensions of Displacement,” a report exploring anticipated impacts of the Green Line extension on the Somerville housing market in new station areas. The work features baseline indicators that the City and its partners can use to track and manage neighborhood change. Findings include increases in residential rents by as much as 67% in some station areas and the potential conversion of existing affordable housing units to market rate.

At the March 4 forum, community leaders shared the housing issues that emerged during discussions at the previous two forums, and then attendees participated in small groups to prioritize those issues and explore how the City and its partners can use various strategies and best practices to tackle them, from inclusionary zoning to acquisition of land near new Green Line stops for developers to create affordable housing.

The series revealed the community’s fervent desire to maintain Somerville’s diversity, vibrancy, and sense of community in the face of current and future neighborhood change. Ultimately, gentrification must be managed so that cities can enjoy the good—like new transit infrastructure—while mitigating the bad—like displacement. MAPC’s Managing Neighborhood Change: Selected Anti-Displacement Strategies in Practice toolkit provides an overview of anti-displacement strategies implemented across the country and an analysis of the results they’ve yielded. Local municipalities can explore the toolkit and use MAPC’s assistance to better understand best practices and determine what may work in their communities.

MAPC is currently engaged in similar work with The Neighborhood Developers and officials in the City of Revere. Together, we are finalizing a community-driven action plan to address issues in the Shirley Avenue Neighborhood, which is in close proximity to large-scale transformative development occurring on Revere Beach. Somerville and Revere’s experiences will inform the Neighborhood Change toolkit and be available as resources to other communities in the MAPC region.

With the right mechanisms in place, neighborhood change can bring not only new resources, but also a community closer together by sharing in an action plan for moving forward. By acting early and assertively, Somerville is positioned to welcome change in transformative areas of the city without sacrificing what makes it so desirable in the first place. And a vocal and invested constituency, including those who came out to shape Somerville’s housing agenda this past month, must see that it does.


Karina Milchman, MAPC Housing Planner

Somerville Housing Forum, March 4, 2014. Photo courtesy Somerville Community Corporation.
Somerville Housing Forum, March 4, 2014. Photo courtesy Somerville Community Corporation.