Promises Made, Promises Kept: Assembly Row and Affordable Housing

By William Tauro

 

Isn’t it hard to remember what Somerville was like before Assembly Row?

 

Many developers before Federal Realty promised to make Assembly Square a vibrant part of the Somerville community. Turns out they could not fulfill their promises. Federal Realty took the commitment and vision that they promised to the City very seriously even through a downturn in the economy when most developments stalled or failed. They followed through and Assembly Row is now recognized as a premier transit- oriented mixed-use neighborhood. Federal Realty has served as a true community partner to the city and its residents more than ten years, since 2005.

 

While Assembly Row itself is the most visible result of that vision, Federal Realty has contributed to the Somerville community in countless other ways. As the city considers asking even more of the company due to changes in zoning from the original plan developed with the city, these up-front and ongoing contributions, which have faded from the public discourse, are worth revisiting.

 

“In a lot of developments affordable housing is the only mitigation. Before the first shovel even hit ground at what was once one of the state’s largest brownfield sites, Federal Realty was proud to have agreed with the City on a comprehensive mitigation plan with benefits that extended far beyond Assembly Row,” said Don Briggs, Executive Vice President of Development for FRIT. “Although affordable housing was an important component of that plan, it had a far reaching impact for many areas of the community. In the ten-plus years that followed, Federal Realty has delivered on every promise within that agreement.”

 

They have kept those promises by contributing nearly $200 million for the good of Somerville. This includes contributing $15 million for the construction of Assembly Station, the first Orange Line stop in decades and $100 million in funds to improve Somerville’s streets, open spaces, bike paths and the creation of Baxter State Park. It includes funding for computers to start the city’s jobs program and annual fireworks show. It includes hosting dozens of free community events, including numerous local job fairs, every year.

 

It also includes developing nearly $52 million worth of affordable housing units, making Federal Realty the single largest developer of affordable housing in Somerville since 2010 under the inclusionary zoning ordinance. As the application of the city’s new 20% affordable housing rate is debated, these contributions should be taken into serious consideration.

 

“We’ve created a mixed-use neighborhood, the success of which is the result of over a decade of careful planning, partnership and coordination with the city. Any significant change to those plans, including an increase of affordable units, impedes the progress and vibrancy of our neighborhood and Federal Realty’s role as a community leader,” said Briggs.

 

These kept promises stand in stark contrast to the numerous unfulfilled developments in other parts of Somerville, as recently highlighted in the news. Now, Federal Realty is asking for the same in return – for a fair decision on behalf of the Somerville Planning Board to uphold the original 12.5% affordable housing rate at Assembly Row. In today’s market they cannot afford to build at 20%. Let them build 62 more affordable units bringing the affordable housing to 189 at Assembly Row, making history for the City of Somerville.

 

Federal Realty has played the game fairly and generously – they should not have the rules changed on them now.

 


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