What’s New: Policy Watch

United Legal Defense Fund for ImmigrantsSomerville Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone (left), Cambridge Mayor Marc C. McGovern (center), and the Cambridge Community Foundation established the United Legal Defense Fund for Immigrants earlier this spring. Photo courtesy of the Cambridge Mayor's Office.

Legal Defense Fund in Place for Immigrants

Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone, together with Cambridge Mayor Marc McGovern and the Cambridge Community Foundation (CCF), established the United Legal Defense Fund for Immigrants earlier this spring, according to a press release. The goal of the fund, the CCF’s website says, is to raise $500,000 for grants to support legal services for immigrants. “The generosity of our residents and businesses can change immigration case outcomes locally,” Curtatone said in the release. “With the greater access to legal counsel that we hope the United Legal Defense Fund for Immigrants will provide, our immigrant residents will have a much better chance at the normalcy, dignity, and security they deserve.”

Condominium Conversion Ordinance Revisited After 30 Years

The city’s Condominium Conversion Ordinance, originally drafted over 30 years ago, has finally been updated, the Somerville Journal reports. The ordinance was sharply criticized for being outdated in a Boston Globe article last spring after an Inner Belt/East Cambridge apartment complex displaced its tenants to convert their units into far pricier condos without paying tenants so much as a relocation stipend.

The update was largely shaped by public discourse that called for increased protection for tenants and resident homeowners in situations like these. Amendments that protect property owners’ rights to sell to family members before tenants and prevent conversions that cause tenant displacement were also approved, according to the Journal. 

Update to Somerville Zoning Ordinance Proposed

A proposed update to the Somerville Zoning Ordinance would require developers of “transform areas” in the city to pay fees or dedicate a percentage of their land to open space, according to the Somerville Journal. City planners say the ordinance needs to be amended if the city is to achieve its SomerVision goal of establishing 125 acres of publicly accessible open space. As of this spring, the city has about 88 acres to go.

Teens Fight for Voting Rights 

A home-rule petition to grant legal voting rights for 16- and 17-year-olds in local elections has been sent to the Massachusetts State House, Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone said on Twitter. It needs to be approved by both the state legislature and Gov. Charlie Baker before going into effect, but teens have voiced their support for the measure, the Somerville Journal reports. “I think we have seen that there has been a lot of turbulence at Somerville High and students don’t feel like it is being correctly handled by those that have the power,” high schooler Jack Torres said at a public City Council meeting, according to the Journal. “I think allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to vote gives them a voice in these issues that affect them at school and out of school that their parents, who can vote, don’t necessarily see.”

The petition came in the wake of Rep. Ayanna Pressley’s proposed amendment in Washington, a push to lower the voting age to 16 in elections for the U.S. House, Senate, and president beginning in 2020. Pressley cited her district’s engaged youth, as well as the remarkable youth activism surrounding gun control and climate change, as evidence of teens’ civic engagement, Boston.com reports.

This article originally appeared in the What’s New section of the Voices of the City Issue of Scout Somerville, which is available for free at more than 200 locations throughout the city or by subscription.

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