As Published in the Wicked Local Somerville
When five young women stepped up to present to the City Council on affordable housing, they demonstrated kids really are the future.
At the Somerville City Council’s May 23 full council meeting, five middle school students from the East Somerville Community School (ESCS) stepped up to share their research and thoughts on affordability in Somerville.
Emily Aravalo, Aidsa Rivera Arias, Seline Pierre, Maria Benavides, and Leiosha O’Connor-Vital are participating in an internship with Citizen Schools. They choose to focus on affordability and gender equality, and presented their work during an event at ESCS last week.
“To be honest with you I got carried away, because they had a lot to say,” said Council President Katjana Ballantyne. “As we all know, it is an important issue for us so I invited them to come up here to the City Council and share with us their thoughts about affordability and how they got involved in this project.”
Pierre thanked Ballantyne for the invite, saying they were honored and exciting about the opportunity to speak.
“In this group we talk about real world issues and we put them into art to shine light on them,” she said. “At first we had multiple ideas for our issue, but then we narrowed it down to gender equality and affordable housing. We decided affordable housing because many of us had personal experiences in that category. For example, my neighbor had to move away into a different city because she could no longer afford the rising rent prices.”
Rivera Arias shared similar experiences, echoing the personal nature of this issue.
“We picked this issue because our friends and families are being forced to move because they can’t afford their rent,” she said. “Our focus issue is Union Square because something is happening where some people are going to have to leave because they can’t afford their house because their rent is going higher. Our root cause is the Green Line, because the Green Line is getting extended through union Square and that’s why they are raising the rents.”
Benavides said their goal is to increase affordable housing in Somerville, and, through a letter campaign, they hope to motivate the mayor to support this.
“Some people don’t get enough in their jobs meaning they have to move out, meaning kids that go to school and have friends have to leave them because of people raising the rent,” she said. “They are losing a friend or someone they know.
In a survey the group conducted, they found that 90 percent of parents are worried about increasing rents in Somerville and 60 percent are worried they will become homeless because the rents are increasing.
They also ran a photo campaign where they asked their school and community to write down why affordable housing is important.
Aravalo shared quotes collected from that campaign: “Affordable housing is important to me because this has happened to my aunt and her kids, they have been moving in different houses and can’t afford to live there because of its high prices but I want to put a stop to it;” “Affordable housing is important to me because some people don’t have as much money as others;” and “Affordable housing is important to me because people should not have to choose between food or a place to live in.”
Many city councilors expressed their support and thanks to the group of young women.
“You guys did such a great job, and I agree with you, it’s so sad when people have to move away, especially kids, because with kids it’s not just where you live it’s the school you go to,” said Councilor at Large Stephanie Hirsch. “I hope that you continue to use your powerful girl voice from now until forever.”
Ward 3 Councilor Ben Ewen-Campen just had one small question for them.“I want to thank you all for your bravery, you’re a lot braver than I was at your age to come all the way up to City Hall and speak publicly,” he said. “So I have one question: have any of you ever thought about running for office in the future? I just want to put that idea in your head. There are a million things you can do – serve the public in many different ways, chase your dreams – but one thing I’d like you to keep in mind is that you should run for office one day.”
Ward 1 Councilor Matt McLaughlin remembered speaking with ESCS students last year about civic engagement, and that every question asked was about affordable housing, gentrification, and displacement.
“They were using words that I didn’t know at that age when I was living through the same problem at the same age they are now,” he said. “It really strikes me how the young people in the community understand displacement better than anyone because they see it every day, and not enough credit is given to their ability to comprehend what’s going on. [And their chart] says, Root cause: Green Line Extension. Find me an adult who’s willing to say that out loud ... We got a lot of heat for trying to reduce the voting age to 16; I think we might have to reduce it to 12 because they get it better than a lot of adults do.”
Click here to see the video recording of this city council meeting.