Somerville alderman candidate vows to represent city’s renters

Because she’s one, too.

Somerville candidate for alderman, Elizabeth Weinbloom, canvassing in Davis Square.
Somerville candidate for alderman, Elizabeth Weinbloom, canvassing in Davis Square. –Jean Nagy / Boston.com

Elizabeth Weinbloom is breaking the law.

Weinbloom, a candidate for alderman in the Somerville ward that includes Davis Square, says she lives with four roommates. That puts her in violation of a city law that bans more than four unrelated adults from living in the same apartment.

The law is rarely enforced, but Weinbloom believes it’s an example of a governmental bias against tenants.

“If you ask any official as to the reason of the ordinance, generally the reason they’ll give is something related to overcrowding,’’ she said. “But of course that makes no sense because, just because people are related doesn’t make them better able to get out of the same fire escape. … It just results in people becoming off-the-books tenants, illegally subletting, and therefore losing legal recourse against actual bad landlords.’’

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Renter issues are of particular concern to Weinbloom, a 30-year-old New York native and curriculum writer who has bounced between Somerville and Cambridge apartments since graduating from Harvard in 2007. She’s campaigning to serve a city whose population is two-thirds renters but whose Board of Alderman is almost entirely made up of homeowners.

Weinbloom is an underdog in Tuesday’s election. She performed well enough in a four-candidate preliminary election for the seat, which is being vacated after this term by the ward’s current alderman Rebekah Gewirtz, to advance to the general election.

But she came in a distant second, as she trailed homeowner, attorney, and longtime local volunteer Lance Davis by more than 400 votes.

Weinbloom said her “big issue’’ is housing affordability in both the renter and owner markets—an acute concern in Somerville. In the last four years, the city’s typical rent has increased from about $2,000 to over $2,500, and home values have increased 47 percent in the same time frame, according to data from Zillow.

If elected, Weinbloom has promised to advocate for measures such as rewards for landlords who maintain their property and keep rents stable, increased affordable unit mandates for housing developments and a city program publicizing rental price data to give renters greater market awareness.

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Weinbloom is selling her candidacy as an opportunity for a more representative democracy for renters, labeling herself as a tenant on campaign pamphlets and saying her election would lift the number of tenant aldermen. Nine of Somerville’s 11 current aldermen own their homes or live in family homes, according to property records.

She said her goal is not to be divisive, and that rising rents are an issue for homeowners as well.

“Many homeowners I talk to, they too were renters for many years before they got their homes,’’ she said. “They are very sympathetic to this issue. … I have spoken to many renters and homeowners who say, ‘Oh, there used to be this lovely couple next door, but they got priced out.’’’

All 13 of Boston’s city councilors are homeowners, and in Cambridge, three of nine councilors rent, according to a search of the Middlesex and Suffolk counties’ registries of deeds.

Nadeem Mazen, one of the Cambridge councilors who rents, said he thinks a tenant’s perspective on a local legislative body “can and does represent the baseline very well.’’

Renters have a reputation for being less politically engaged than homeowners in local politics. Research has shown that homeowners are more likely to vote in local elections and join civic groups.

This can be partially attributed to a “natural amount of transience’’ in the renter lifestyle, Weinbloom said. But tenants may be disengaged from local politics because candidates often focus on homeowner issues, she said.

“It is not a politically influential group, because it is a group that is less likely to show up and vote in local elections,’’ she said. “Everyone said, ‘That’s nice that you want to represent renters, but that’s not going to get you elected.’ I’m trying to see if they’re right, and I’m hoping that they’re not.’’

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Davis, her opponent, said he also considers housing affordability a key issue, one he often heard about as soon as he started knocking on doors around Davis Square as a candidate. He said cost of living is a larger issue than the renter-homeowner divide.

Davis rejected the notion that, as a homeowner, he’d be less likely to understand tenant issues or to work on their behalf. He said that the primary role of a ward alderman is to focus on constituent concerns, and that his civic work in the city has come alongside homeowners and renters alike.

“The biggest challenge facing this city, without a question, is affordability,’’ he said.

Related gallery: Boston’s real estate boom

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