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The following is an op-ed we submitted to Cambridge Day for publication on , expressing our desire to see RAFI Development’s Somernova project provide more housing to accommodate the jobs growth it wil foster.

Over the last two decades, Somerville’s rent and housing prices have skyrocketed, yet we’ve exacerbated our housing problem by creating more jobs than homes. According to our own data, Somerville has added 10,500 jobs from 2012 to 2022, and according to Census estimates has only added 2,600 people for that period. This puts increased pressure on the local housing market and forces more people to commute longer distances exacerbating other community issues such as traffic, wear and tear on our streets, and car pollution.

A significant part of this problem is caused by zoning, which controls the where and how many buildings are built in Somerville.

Unfortunately, our current zoning laws strictly limit how much housing can be built. Recently, real estate developer Rafi Properties submitted a proposal to modify the zoning around a site known as Somernova. While the site is mostly focused on “climate tech” and cultural amenities, their newest proposal does include a 100-unit apartment building. For housing, this proposal is an improvement over the existing zoning in that area, which does not allow housing.

Somerville YIMBY supports the inclusion of badly-needed housing in the latest Somernova proposal, and encourages Rafi to explore going further in at least one of three ways.

First, they could build a taller apartment building with perhaps 200 or 250 homes. Alternatively, they could voluntarily increase their contribution to the already-mandated Somerville Affordable Housing Trust. They could purchase other land and build more housing there.

Second, they could voluntarily increase the percentage of affordable units. The city requires that 20% of new homes be deed-restricted Affordable, but Rafi could increase that to 50 or even 100 percent of the units. That would build on the work they’ve done with the Dojo and its youth programming by helping current and future children afford to live here in Somerville. Or they could introduce live-work units to help those on the Somernova site. Rafi has advertised wanting to properly help artists and the community, so they should build places that people of all types could afford to live in.

The last way to improve housing access is to improve local transit access, creating ways for workers to live with a reasonable, and ideally car-free, commute. Rafi has already proposed paying for a public shuttle that will travel between Somernova and Broadway. They have also proposed designing their buildings to accommodate a new MBTA commuter rail stop. Both a shuttle and a public rail stop would greatly reduce car trips and enable the movement of people to spread housing demand across a broader area.

We respect the negotiation and work from many people that has gone into the current proposal, and do not wish to see the perfect become the enemy of the good. However, if there is room for change in the proposal, Somerville YIMBY would like to see even more housing and transit access in the Somernova proposal.