PHOTO BY DEREK KOUYOUMJIAN
Residents vent on issues related to poverty and affordable housing
As a major initiative for 2019, the team at the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism (BINJ), in collaboration with partners at DigBoston, Somerville Media Center (SMC), and various other outlets, is focusing on identifying and reporting critical stories in the City of Somerville.
To that end, we have been leading journalism workshops at SMC, including some with high school students, and in February BINJ turned out more than 100 Somerville residents and active community members to the ONCE ballroom on Highland Ave to converse with area journalists about issues they think need more coverage. The information these participants provided has already seeded articles and will continue to bear fruit over the coming months.
In addition to our follow-ups, we have transcribed all of the presentations given at ONCE. It’s a lot to chew on, so for the purpose of reporting back we parsed sentiments of the participating Somervillians into the following categories (many of which overlap at multiple intersections):
- Neighborhoods, transit, and accessibility
- Union Square and other development
- Low-income residents and affordable housing
- Immigrant communities
- Trees and the environment
- Arts, artists, and artisans
In addition to reports that stem from the February meetup, over the coming weeks we will also publish words and ideas that stood out at the summit. This week, we get into excerpts from various testimonies related to poverty and affordable housing.
Kate Byrne, Community Action Agency of Somerville
Our mission is to end poverty in Somerville, which is kind of a big mission, but we do that through working with our Head Start families. We have a program right now that’s going in which we help low-income people do their taxes. … We also have just started a food pantry [and] do work with our homeless prevention program, which works with people who are at very high risk of being homeless. We have advocates that go to court with people and help people try to resolve their issues with their landlords. So we’ve got a big … big mission.
Lynne Doncaster, Somerville Homeless Coalition
The Somerville Homeless Coalition runs two shelters—a 16-bed adult shelter and a shelter that can serve five families. We address the problems of homelessness, near homelessness, and hunger in our community. … Last year [we] served 900 households in Somerville, providing them with groceries and other essentials. … Through housing assistance, we kept 72 families from becoming homeless.
Since the start of 2019 we’ve had 60 new households sign up for services at project soup. Most years, we get 100 in a calendar year. We think that this need for food and for assistance is in part due to the government shutdown [and] food stamp benefits [being] changed.
Maury + Ann Marie, Tufts Housing League
We’re actually here because housing, while our group is called Tufts Housing league, is obviously relevant to all of us. … [What] we want to really emphasize is the fact that Somerville is in a housing crisis right now. … Over 2,000 students have to push Somerville and Medford residents out every single year because they can’t find housing on campus. This only adds to increased rents. …
Tufts Housing League is a radical student-run organization on campus that was founded just last year. … We’ve been doing lots of pushing and having lots of really difficult conversations with administration kind of saying, “Hey, why aren’t you building a new high-density dorm on campus? We needed that 10 years ago, you know, what gives?”
This is really a point at which we really need to rally around, we really want to talk to other housing-related community organizations that are here, so please come and find us. … We are on the side of community members, we’re all fighting the same battle. We all want accessible affordable housing. … We’re just really here trying to work together as community members … [to] find our common ground on what’s important to people, which is shelter.
Transcription by Spencer Walter.