Public Housing Residents Rally to Defend Their Right to Safe and Affordable Housing

Public Housing Residents Rally to Defend Their Right to Safe and Affordable Housing

Low-income Somerville families facing temporary displacement fight to remain in the city that they call home

“Will we get to stay, or will we have to leave? And when will our homes be safe to live in?”

These are the two questions that residents of the Clarendon Hill public housing development in West Somerville keep asking themselves, and the city, these days. For nearly a year now, since developers first announced that they were planning to renovate the development and add 300 market rate units, families have been living in limbo, facing the anxiety of not knowing when their lives could be turned upside down.


Clarendon Hill is a 216-unit public housing development in West Somerville that is home to low- to extremely low-income Somerville residents, particularly families with young children and elderly and disabled folks. When residents first learned about the planned redevelopment (which some of them had never been officially notified of), many were excited and relieved. Clarendon's buildings were originally built as temporary housing in the 1940s for World War II veterans, and therefore they have fallen into significant disrepair (many residents live with mold, infestations, poor heating and ventilation, peeling lead paint, etc.). The majority of the people living in the development - especially infants and young children - live with health issues like asthma that are caused or exacerbated by these issues, so the news that these buildings would finally be rebuilt was initially welcomed.

However, concerns soon arose. First residents learned that they didn’t all have a guaranteed right to return to the property once the project was finished. Then they were told that they wouldn’t have access to the common spaces in the market rate buildings of the new mixed-income community, because they would be “a security risk.” Finally, they were told that the whole construction process could take up to four years to complete, during which time they would be relocated - with no promise that they would be placed in Somerville. Families with children in the Somerville school system, as well as people with nearby jobs, were deeply concerned about potentially disrupting their children's lives and/or losing their jobs, on top of being totally isolated from the community they call home.

To address these concerns, residents organized to form a tenant association - Clarendon Residents United - to negotiate with the development team. They successfully secured a promise that anyone living in the development when construction started would be allowed to move back in after the rebuilding, and that all residents would have equal access to the common spaces of the new buildings. But they haven’t been able to get the developers to propose a relocation plan that ensures that residents can remain here in their home community.


Construction on this badly-needed rebuilding project was supposed to begin this fall, but the process has stalled over the failure to sign a relocation agreement because the developers cannot commit to letting families stay here in Somerville. The residents feel strongly that this is crucial, and yet also need the redevelopment to start so that their children do not have to continue to live in unhealthy conditions. This event is an attempt to bring all the stakeholders together, to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the tenant association, and to show how much public support there is for keeping Somerville children in our schools and for moving ahead with this project in a timely manner.

These are Somerville's own - many of them are long-term residents, some born and raised in the same part of West Somerville that Clarendon is located in - and they're fighting for their right to remain in this community that they call home.

Kate Berliner