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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Saturday, April 20, 2024

Somerville hosts ‘Midterm Ceremonies’ event

A campaign sign is pictured in Somerville on Sept. 11, 2022.

The city of Somerville hosted its “Midterm Ceremonies” event on Jan. 3 featuring Mayor Katjana Ballantyne, City Council President Ben Ewen-Campen and School Committee Chair Andre Green. The three officials discussed the progress they made in the past year and their goals for 2023.

Mayor Ballantyne reflected on the time she took office when people were scrambling for healthcare access and small businesses were struggling to survive. Despite this, she saw the predicament as a call to work, she said. She launched weekly vaccination clinics, distributed high-quality masks and testing kits and supported small businesses with more than two million dollars.

Social distancing guidelines during the pandemic have forcedemergency shelters to reduce their dependents numbers, leading to more homelessness. As a result, Ballantyne said, she and the city will be opening a new support facility this winter in partnership with Somerville Homeless Coalition. 

Ballantyne said she will also push for a Universal Basic Income program this year and spoke about supporting women, especially those of low-income backgrounds. 

“Low-income households bear a disproportionate burden and … are overwhelmingly led by women of color,” Ballantyne said. “This isn't a new crisis; it's just been disregarded for decades and now it's even more urgent than ever. It's time for governments to step up to the plate. When we invest in girls and women, we correct an injustice, and we improve our communities for everyone.” 

The city’s Department of Racial and Social Justice is making efforts to combat racial and other social injustices, according to Ballantyne. Amongst other initiatives, it has sought community feedback through community group focus sessions, gathered people’s stories and intends to host more opportunities to learn and hear from experts. 

“We won't fix centuries of oppression overnight,” Ballantyne said. “It takes time to build inroads, to build trust and to make a difference, but Somerville is staying the course. We are making sustainable progress.” 

Ballantyne expressed her concern about rising hate and repressive legislation targeting women and gender minorities. The city council passed her ordinances to protect individuals seeking gender affirming and reproductive healthcare, and she proudly signed them, she said. 

Ballantyne praised the Green Line Extension as “a long hard-fought dream,” reminding the audience that the development came after three decades of advocacy and hard work.

“As a community we planned for this moment for decades,” Ballantyne said. “We fought for the Green Line Extension because public transit is a public good. It also sets us up to accelerate our community goals through transit-oriented development.” 

However, there are still pressing public needs which need to be addressed, according to Ballantyne. To enhance street safety, she said, the community must cooperate. 

“I call on the full community to work with us; street by street, driver by driver, and person by person,” Mayor Ballantyne said. “I'm speaking to each of you. Let's get together to achieve ‘Vision Zero’ by slowing down, staying alert, following the rules and putting life first.” 

Ballantyne also acknowledged the ongoing housing crisis, expressing her commitment to fight displacement and gentrification, emphasizing the urgency of retaining the city’s families, small businesses, nonprofits and artistic creativity. 

In an effort to fight climate change, Ballantyne said, her team will be launching Clean Green, a program to make energy efficient upgrades for low and moderate income households. Her vision is to have Somerville become “carbon negative” by 2050. 

Ewen-Campen later took the stage and stressed more on the problem of displacement and gentrification.  

“It is continuing to push out so many of the people who have made Somerville the amazing place that it is,” Ewen-Campen said. “The crisis [is] not new; it is certainly not unique to Somerville, but it is now intensifying to a degree that we have never seen before.”  

Realizing skyrocketing rental charges and continuous unfair treatment of tenants by landlords, Ewen-Campen noted that they expanded the Housing Notification Act, an unprecedented law that safeguards tenants rights. He promised to work with the mayor’s office to bring more affordable housing, citing Clarendon Hill as an example of their budding efforts, and also to create a rental registry to protect tenants from “predatory” landlords. 

Ewen-Campen also considered the statistics of people killed by vehicles in the streets as a reflection of the high stakes for public safety. His office hopes to finalize plans to improve pedestrian safety this year.

In concluding, Ewen-Campen acknowledged the ongoing rat problems and said they are devising means to get rid of them, including use of predators, rat-proof cans, electrocution boxes and other baiting programs. 

Green opened his speech by noting the multiple challenges that children and educators are facing, including pandemic upheavals and an oftentimes uncooperative government. 

“Educators across the country have taken it on the chin this year, becoming a political football and a scapegoat for this country's repeated refusal to adequately invest in its children, particularly its most vulnerable ones,” Green said. 

He said they have implemented robust anti-racism training programs and continue to invest in curbing mental health crises in schools. 

Despite all they are dealing with, Green expressed a firm resolve to continue supporting children. 

“We will continue to develop equity-minded instruction and curriculum, so that every Somerville student has the opportunity to access a world-class education that equips them not just to thrive in a 21st century economy, but to do so as engaged participants in a pluralist, multicultural democracy,”  Green said. “Our agenda is ambitious, because our schools deserve no less.”