State transportation officials are recommending an environmental review for a proposal to bring an elevated portion of the McGrath Highway to ground level and convert it into a six-lane boulevard.
The Massachusetts Department of Transportation said in a draft final report released this month that it is also willing to consider a four-lane boulevard design that would require additional analysis through the environmental process. The state is accepting comments on the report through Jan. 7.
Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone has been calling on the state to demolish the 1950s-era overpass, to better connect neighborhoods in the city.
The state is now recommending an elevated portion of the McGrath Highway be torn down and in May outlined a proposed boulevard style reconstruction of the McCarthy Overpass, which carries McGrath over several cross streets starting north at Medford Street and ending south at the intersection of Somerville Avenue and Medford Street.
The preliminary concept for the boulevard would eliminate northbound and southbound left turns at Washington Street in an effort to prevent congestion. Sidewalks and a bike path that is 10 feet would run alongside the boulevard.
In a press release Friday, Curtatone’s office said that the city and the Somerville Bicycle Advisory Committee asked the state in May to consider a four-lane design that takes into account that the MBTA’s Green Line will soon extend into Union Square and Brickbottom areas and will divert a significant number of vehicle trips.
“Creating a boulevard is good for our residents’ health and our economic health, and I’m pleased that the state has agreed to study a four-lane concept as well as a six-lane option, which will further the community’s goals to make Somerville the most walkable, bikeable and transit-accessible city in the nation,” Curatone said in a prepared statement.
In its report, the Department of Transportation said it feels the six-lane boulevard alternative appropriately balances regional mobility with neighborhood livability, but the state is willing to consider a four-lane design.
The state is accepting comments on the report through Jan. 7, 2014 and they can be sent via email to email@example.com or by mail to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, Office of Transportation Planning, Re: Grounding McGrath Study Comments, 10 Park Plaza, Suite 4150, Boston, MA 02116.
With more than 4,000 Massachusetts families living in motels or emergency shelters, a few lawmakers suggested Wednesday it’s time to look at the state’s zoning laws to encourage construction of more affordable housing.
During a legislative oversight hearing to examine a rise in homelessness, Sen. James Eldridge, co-chair of the Housing Committee, said most people agree that housing people in motels and hotels is not a solution for homeless families, but said there is not enough affordable housing available to prevent the problem.
The Department of Housing and Community Development spends roughly $1.1 million a week on shelter, a figure that ticked up when the number of homeless families began rising over the summer despite increased spending by the Legislature and the Patrick administration to address the problem. The number hit an all-time high in October when 2,038 families were housed in emergency shelters. It has hovered around the same since, according to DHCD.
“The alternative is those families would be literally living on the streets,” Eldridge, a Democrat from Acton, said during the hearing.
If the state wants to solve the homelessness crisis, there needs to be more federal and state funding for construction of affordable housing, Eldridge said during the hearing.
Many suburban communities place restrictions on affordable housing that contribute to the homelessness problem, with some prohibiting construction of multi-family units, Undersecretary of Housing Aaron Gornstein told lawmakers on the committee. “There is a tremendous need for more multi-family housing,” he said.
“We do need to build more housing, more affordable housing, as well as more market rate housing,” Gornstein added.
Rep. Kevin Honan (D-Brighton), House co-chair of the committee, wanted to know if the rise in homelessness was a national problem, and what other states were doing to create affordable housing solutions. Gornstein said during a national conference this past summer housing officials from around the country talked about how they were all seeing a “significant increase” in the number of homeless.
In November 2012, Gov. Deval Patrick announced a goal of creating 10,000 multi-family units each year. As of October 2013, there have been 6,268 building permits pulled for multi-family homes, compared to 3,777 during the same time in 2012, according to DHCD.
Eldridge asked if 10,000 units were not enough to address the problem. Gornstein described the figure as “ambitious.”
Affordable housing is expensive to build, and the federal government has walked away from building housing projects during the Reagan administration, advocates said.
Currently 100,000 people are on a waiting list for federal Section 8 affordable housing assistance, according to Peter Gagliardi, executive director of HAP Housing, which provides housing assistance to people in Hampshire and Hampden counties in western Massachusetts.
Gagliardi said the state is facing a systemic problem that is much larger than the 4,000 people currently in shelters and motels. There are 200,000 people in the state living at the federal poverty level and at risk of losing their homes, he said.
Rep. Denise Provost (D-Somerville) asked Gornstein how much affordable units cost to build. He estimated total development costs somewhere around $300,000 per unit.
Rep. Matthew Beaton, a Republican from Shrewsbury, asked if the state took steps to significantly increase subsidized housing would there be unintended consequences on market rate housing. Gornstein said he did not think it would create an issue.
Gornstein said the state cannot solve the problem alone. He said one of the major challenges has been the recent increase in the number of families needing emergency shelter.
Nationwide, states are seeing a surge in homelessness driven by the recent recession and foreclosure crisis, according to Gornstein. Massachusetts is not alone in facing the problem that necessitates an aggressive approach on several fronts, he said, including affordable housing and job training.
“We need a good strong federal partner to be able to produce even more units of affordable housing,” he said.
David Hedison, executive director of the Chelmsford Housing Authority and CHOICE INC. – a non-profit subsidiary of the Chelmsford authority - said many communities cannot afford land to build affordable housing. Expensive land means municipal officials need to think more creatively about ways to build, including regional projects or borrowing, he said.
He added communities cannot rely on private developers to build much-needed affordable housing.
About a year ago, Hedison said he pretended to be a homeless person looking for an affordable unit. He called building managers at a development that received tax credits and other state assistance to build a certain number of affordable units. The building managers told him they were not accepting any names for the wait list – it was full.
The following week, he visited the development and introduced himself as the executive director of the Chelmsford Housing Authority. He told them his mother needed an affordable unit. He was told they had three available, he told lawmakers.
Hedison said public housing officials are held accountable, and “anyone receiving dollars to create affordable units also needs to be held accountable.”
Other advocates said policymakers need to solve the underlying problems that create homelessness, like job training and education.
Chris Norris, executive director of Metropolitan Boston Housing Partnership, said the Patrick administration’s two-year-long HomeBASE program worked by keeping thousands of families in homes. However, there was not enough job training available to keep low-income people afloat.
“Families were housed for two years. We did that effectively. Not many of them saw their incomes increase,” Norris said.
For example, 15 families who lost their HomeBASE rental assistance dropped out of job training because they lost their homes and were forced to move, according to Norris.
There were approximately 5,400 families enrolled in the state's HomeBASE rental assistance program that started to roll off the program. The assistance is scheduled to end for all recipients by June 30, 2014. Since July, assistance already ended for approximately 3,000 families. DHCD is issuing 500 state rental assistance vouchers under the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program (MRVP) so some of those families have housing, Gornstein said.
Altia Taylor, 30, is a single mother who will soon be forced to leave her apartment in Dorchester because her HomeBASE assistance came to an end in November. After Jan. 31, she has no idea where she and her 15-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son will live.
“I don’t really know what my next steps are,” she told reporters after testifying before the committee.
Taylor said the HomeBASE program helped her for two years by giving her family stability after they lived in shelters. She is now waiting to hear from the Boston Housing Authority about her application for a permanent place to live.
Before the oversight hearing began, Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker outlined his plan to move families living in motels into more permanent housing within his first year in office if elected.
His short-term plan calls for sending “multi-disciplinary assessment teams” to work with families in hotels and motels to develop a plan to stabilize their living situations. He also called for better communication between state agencies to assist families on the brink of homelessness, greater flexibility for regional public and private agencies, and “sensible” changes to state laws and regulations that he says push people into homelessness.
- Citywide alerts;
- City Cable TV (Channel 22 for Comcast customers, Channel 13 for RCN customers) and Educational TV (Channel 15);
- Local TV, radio and print media;
- Postings on City social media feeds, including:
- City website: www.somervillema.gov
- Flashing blue lights activated at 22 key intersections in the City (when lights are flashing, a snow emergency is in effect).
Despite losing in the Division 1 state final on penalties, the Somerville boys' were the best boys' soccer team in the state throughout the entire season.
The Highlanders defeated then-undefeated Needham and Silver Lake to capture the Division 1 Eastern Mass. crown. Along with having far more opportunities to put away the state title game in regulation, the Highlanders top scorer senior Thayrone Miranda played through the entire season with a knee injury. If Miranda had been healthy, it is very likely that Somerville would have taken the state crown.
Masconomet has the edge over Needham in the final Top 20 both teams lost just once, to Somerville, but Masconomet won 23 of its 25 games en route to the Division 2 state title. The Rockets, on the other hand, tied six times.
Madison Park finish the season at No. 12 after losing in double-overtime to St. Johns Prep in the Division 1 North semifinal. Prep finishes ahead of rival BC High with the Catholic Conference title, but was dismantled by Somerville in the Division 1 North title game. Walpole enters the Top 20, despite a 13-8-2 record. The Rebels won four straight games in the tournament and played a tough regular season schedule in the Bay State conference.
Somerville is upping the ante in its efforts to have the state designate the city as a surrounding community of the casino proposed by Wynn Resorts along the Mystic River in Everett.
The Board of Aldermen Thursday unanimously approved spending $150,000 to study the casino proposal after Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone, a vocal casino opponent, said the city needs to hire consultants with the expertise to assess what the gambling facility could mean for Somerville.
“There are real impacts on our quality of life, real social impacts, and potential impacts to our local economy,” Curtatone said.
In an October letter to the city, Wynn Resorts said it has determined that Somerville will not suffer any adverse impacts from the proposed development other than potentially some traffic.
But Michael Glavin, Somerville’s executive director of planning and community development, said his office doesn’t believe that the information that Wynn Resorts has provided Somerville has been adequate.
Glavin said the city urgently needs the $150,000 so it can ensure that sites in Somerville, such Assembly Row, are not harmed in any way from a project of such a large scale across the river.
Alderman Bob Trane asked why the city taxpayers should foot the bill to study the impacts of the proposed casino.
State law requires casino developers to negotiate agreements with surrounding communities to offset potential negative impacts of having a casino nearby.
But Aldermen President Bill White said Wynn Resorts has not designated Somerville as a surrounding city and therefore the city will have to go to the state Gaming Commission to make its case that Somerville should be deemed a surrounding community of the proposed casino.
Glavin said his office believes there is the opportunity to pursue the commission’s intervention, and if the city is designated a surrounding community the money Somerville spends studying the impacts of the casino could be reimbursed by Wynn Resorts.
Curtatone said Somerville’s border extends halfway out into the Mystic River and the city is going to pursue its rights to be designated a surrounding community.
“You don’t need a tape measure to figure out where Somerville stands,” the mayor said.
If an alderman steps down from the board beyond midterm, Somerville may soon change the way it fills the vacancy.
The Board of Alderman voted 9-0 Thursday to petition the state for permission to amend the city charter regarding how the city fills vacancies that arise on the board with less than a year until the next election.
Twice since December of 2012 an alderman has resigned and recommended his successor. In both cases, the Board of Aldermen approved the appointments.
But Ward 6 Alderwoman Rebekah Gewirtz, who chairs the board’s Legislative Matters Committee, said members of the committee wanted to make sure the people are deciding who is representing them.
“We came to a conclusion that it is not our role here on the Board of Aldermen, to decide who our colleagues are,” Gewirtz said.
The board voted to approve home rule petitions that would change the way the city would fill vacancies that arise among the four aldermen at large seats, as well as the seven ward seats, when there is less than a year before the next election.
If an alderman at large leaves office, the person who finished fifth in the voting for term would be asked to fill the seat. If that person is not willing or able to do so, the person who finished sixth in the voting would be asked. If that person is not willing or able and there are less than 180 days until the next scheduled election, than the seat would be left vacant until the next election. If there is more than 180 days until the next election, than a special election would be held, according to the proposal aldermen voted in favor of Thursday.
If a vacancy occurs in a ward alderman seat with more than 180 days before the next municipal election, the city would hold a special election to fill the seat, according to the proposed law.
Alderman at Large Dennis Sullivan said that he thinks the new way to fill the vacancies would take the politics out of the process.
“I think this is democracy in action,” he said.
The home rule petitions approved by the board Thursday must now be approved by the state before the Somerville City Charter would be amended and the new laws would be enacted.