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Cambridge & Somerville consider drastic steps to address affordable housing

If you are distressed with the state of democracy on a national level, I highly encourage you to delve into your local politics. It’s messy, there are strong conflicting opinions, and there will always be some unhappy with the results, but if you’ve ever witnessed our local government in action, you know that the democratic process is alive and well in our little corner of the universe.

Case in point: Cambridge’s City Council and Somerville’s Board of Aldermen have both recently been pushing measures they feel will help the widely acknowledged affordable housing problem. My attorney friend Rich Vetstein, who writes a blog on all things Massachusetts real estate law-related, recently did a nice write up of the situation in his post, “Cambridge, Other Cities Exploring Giving Tenants Legal Right to Purchase Rental Properties.” Here’s an excerpt with a link back to the full post…

Property Owners Vehemently Opposed to “Right of First Refusal” Proposals Giving Tenants Up to 240 Days to Purchase Rental Properties For Sale

In an effort to stem the affordable housing problem, cities like Cambridge and Somerville are exploring giving tenants a legal right to purchase the homes and apartments they are renting when owners go to sell them on the open market. The concept is a “right of first refusal” which would be triggered when the owner lists the property for sale and gets a bona fide offer from a third party buyer. Read more…

Note that the Cambridge City Council ultimately voted this idea down, which you can read more about in Cambridge Day. To the best of my knowledge, it’s still on the table in Somerville.

Another issue currently being hotly contested in The ‘Ville is a proposal to institute a “transfer tax” on the sale of properties. You can read the details in the draft act and get some color in meeting minutes published on the City’s website. If you live in Somerville, you have the opportunity to make your voice heard — the next meeting of the Legislative Matters Committee will be in late May at a location to be determined — many people involved are encouraging the city to use its public alert system to announce the exact date/time/location.

In the meantime, if you have an opinion you’d like to pass along to the Aldermen, you can send it to

This is how democracy is done.


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