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Daniel Epstein
Candidate for Ward 2

1. Do you believe we have a housing problem in Gloucester? If so, whom does it affect?                                                                                                                                 


Yes, we have a housing problem.  I feel it primarily affects three groups: families (especially low to moderate income families), young people (either high school or college graduates, single or in couples, in an early stage of their careers, who have trouble affording moving out of their family homes), and the elderly (single or couples, some of whom are "overhoused," and cannot find good housing to downsize into, and others of whom are living in housing that is either too expensive or too low-quality).

2. What are your definitions of affordable housing and workforce housing? Who do you see as needing affordable and workforce housing in Gloucester?                          


I have not considered distinctions between "affordable housing" and "workforce housing".  Although I know there are definitions of "affordable" housing as a percentage of income, these relative definitions become skewed by vastly varying incomes, and the inclusion of Gloucester (I feel incorrectly) in a region where the "Area Median Income" is so much higher than the median income for Gloucester (or especially of those whose _jobs_ are located in Gloucester), that I feel like percentage definitions don't help us as much here in Gloucester.

Thus, I tend to have a kind of "absolute" (subject to general inflation) idea of what "affordable" (meaning, to me, _easy_ to afford) housing would be. In rental terms, I'd say an affordable 1br would be about $1,000-$1,200, an affordable 2br $1,200-$1,400, and an affordable 3br $1,400-$1,600.  For purchasing, it's harder to say, because it really has to do with interest rates, as well, but I would think an affordable a 1,000 sq ft house would be around $300k, 1,500 sq ft house about $400k, and 2,000 sq ft house $500k (I'm thinking in terms of monthly mortgage payments).  Of course, these are pretty much impossible to find in Gloucester, or anywhere in the whole region, on the open-market.  But I think these are goals that Gloucester should be looking towards: what can we do in housing policy to begin bringing out housing available at prices close to these, or as close as possible.

3. Clustered housing: Do you generally support building more housing that is grouped, such as duplexes, multi-family, townhouses etc.?  If so, where do you see possibilities in the city for more clustered housing?                                                      

I feel that clustered housing has a role, but it really depends on its style: I think townhouses tend to have a very large footprint, and it's hard for these to fit into Ward 2, which already has a huge proportion of its housing as multi-unit dwellings.  I think duplexes and triple-deckers (1-2 apartments on three levels) are much better for a small footprint, and here in my own Ward, we already have a lot of units of this or similar density.  While I realize that I hate to fall into "NIMBYism," I feel that clustered housing, or reduced minimum lot-sizes, is needed in places like East and West Gloucester, perhaps especially in the vicinity of the West Gloucester train station.  One big issue with squeezing more housing around the Gloucester train station, and Ward 2 generally, is that with the high density already here, and the small lot-sizes, the vast majority of residents have to use at least some street parking.  The only way to increase density much in Ward 2 without making parking problems completely intractable would be to build large structures with parking garages underneath them (potentially underground), such as the plan at 20 Main St, and I have heard from _lots_ of Ward 2 citizens opposition to such large structures that would really change the character of downtown Gloucester. 

4. When you speak with constituents (local business owners, employers, and workers) about income and housing prices in our community, what conclusions do you draw from those conversations?                                                                             

1) renters are either lucky (a nice landlord keeps the rent low), scared (their rent might skyrocket anytime), or strapped (and thinking of leaving Gloucester).

2) homeowners, especially ones who bought their homes many years ago, are usually pretty content, and only concerned if they have a lot of empathy and/or family members (sometimes extended family) facing difficult housing situations--there are actually a good number of homeowners in these last two categories, especially families with young kids who have moved to Gloucester in the last 10-20 years
3) businesses, such as Yella, where I have worked as a bartender, have a lot of trouble attracting dependable people for junior positions; they are often forced to look for younger and younger workers (high school, as young as 14 or 15), because workers in their 20s can rarely afford to live here--and the high schoolers are not as dependable (don't have transportation, afflicted by the follies of youth), and then can't stay around to work their way up over the years--many leave town, leading to huge turnover.  This particularly affects restaurants.

5. What do you see as the major barriers in our community to creating more affordable/workforce housing? How do we overcome them?                                         

I think financing and lack of city government creative initiative are the major obstacles; restrictive zoning, especially in the very-low-density parts of the city, I think is a secondary obstacle, but also an issue.  But I think creative initiatives, thinking outside the box (like I just read about in Montgomery County, MD this morning:, such as partial-ownership by municipal governments or housing trusts, would help.  Too much dependence on 1) traditional public housing policies (like 15% affordable units in new developments by deed-restriction), 2) market mechanisms (which can be gamed by big investors and REITs), and 3) private capital for housing are all aspects of "the old way" that I feel our city government should think twice about, and try to come up with fresh ideas.  I also suspect that if we had more city staff devoted to thinking about this, and particularly to apply for grants, we could overcome some of the financing issues.

6. How have your experiences, personal and professional, shaped your views on housing and land use in Gloucester? And what have you done in the past to address these concerns?      


Buying a house here--a pretty small and quite dilapidated house, that was the only one we could afford, was the first experience.  And indeed the experience of _not_ growing up here, and _not_ having a family house I was born into were incredibly important factors for me: _lacking_ those experiences has made me cognizant of housing problems from the first day (and even before) that I could call myself a Gloucester resident.  I don't want my daughter to grow up with a feeling of housing insecurity, but I also don't want her to grow up entirely blissfully ignorant of how good she has it that she can live in Gloucester for (almost) her whole childhood without confronting housing insecurity.  I myself experienced housing insecurity when I was four and the lady my parents rented from died, and we had to move out of the house quick when her son sold it right away, and other experiences in childhood (like my dad losing his job when I was 13, just months after my parents had purchased their first house). 

Other experiences that have shaped my views are connected to my daughter, who has seen schoolmates' families move away from Gloucester because housing is more affordable in Haverhill, for example.  Also when I was bartending at Yella and I heard some young colleagues, for most of whom bartending or serving was their primary employment, discuss how difficult it is to afford a place to live in Gloucester as a young adult in that line of work--and in fact I saw another colleague from there, a young mother, also move out of Gloucester to Danvers, again because that was the only way she & her partner could afford a house big enough for them and their 3 (soon to be 4) kids.

What I have done in the past (in the four years since I moved to Gloucester) to address these concerns have fallen into three categories: 1) informing myself about them, by talking to people I have met (especially in the Democratic party group), and trying to both learn and spread the word about housing problems; this may not seem like much, but given that I personally was lucky enough to buy an affordable house at a good interest rate, I have no personal financial stake in the matter--and indeed, I have found that the majority Gloucester residents who are longtime homeowners are in this position: if they care, it's not because it affects them--they have decent housing payments and/or live in houses paid off long ago (sometimes by their parents).  Getting such people to care out of empathy is a big project, which I know as I've been involved in it in informal ways for a while, and in formal ways beginning: 2) I have started to run for City Council--when I saw how my incumbent Ward 2 City Councilor voted and acted on the round of zoning proposals in the spring of 2022, that was when I decided to run for this office, because affordable housing, to keep Gloucester from turning into Nantucket (a community hollowed-out by absentee landowners), is so important. Running for City Council is a big job, and it's really the most important thing I've done. 3) I have gone to a couple of meetings of ECCO and Housing 4 All Gloucester, and also to a small meeting with Deana, Sunny, and Terrence.  However, I have grown disillusioned by such meetings, as I have gotten the impression that they are always sort of the same two or three dozen people speaking to each other, and I have not been aware of much outreach being done to convince the majority of Gloucester homeowners, who often don't care about the problem, to begin to view it as a real priority.

In all honesty, even filling out this survey, as a candidate, I am doing not because I think it will affect my election outcome: I have the impression that beyond the three dozen people or so people whom I have seen attending meetings, the imprimatur of endorsement will have little affect on the race in Ward 2 (and my guess is that even the subset of Ward 2 voters among that regular group that attends meetings will likely vote for or against me based on other reasons that my views on housing--like their impression of my personality, integrity, or potential effectiveness).  Indeed, I am filling out this survey because 1) I care a lot about these issues and think about them all the time (and talk to voters about them when I go out canvassing), and 2) I have a lot of respect for the individuals involved in organizing H4AG, and the policy work they are doing.  Thus, the time I take to fill out this survey (taking away from other election activities) is due to my respect for their work and their devotion.

7a. What do you think is the best plan for meeting the requirements of the MBTA zoning?                                                                                                                           


I don't know what the best plan will be.  I suspect it will involve trying to pass ordinances that will increase possible density somewhat in several different, perhaps scattered, parcels of land in different parts of town that added-up together will amalgamate to something approaching the size and density-increase of the single district envisioned in the MBTA law, and trying to get the state government to accept this as a a compromise, rather than establishing a single zoning district of the size and density-allowance prescribed by the law.

7b. What are your recommendations to update zoning in Gloucester’s downtown train station area (and West Gloucester station area, if applicable) to bring the City into compliance?                                                                                                                   

I think allowing conversion of 1-2 family to 2, 3, or 4 units in already existing structures, by right, is a good start, but I think that actually won't have a huge affect around the downtown train station, because there is already such dense housing (and parking is already so hard).  I do think converting the Shaw's complex and parking lot into something with housing, of some significant density, but not too tall (like 3 stories max), and with significant expansion of the parking options (given the Shaw's lot is never more than half full) would be a good option.  I realize this is actually a "construction," not a "zoning" idea, but I think we could try and create a specific zoning ordinance for that parcel to encourage such a construction in the future.

I really think the area around the West Gloucester train station is a much more fruitful area to consider because a) density around there is already so low, and b) the smaller number of residents that would be affected by changes.  Anything we do that increases density a lot (or leads to increased density) is going to upset and inconvenience some people.  However, the number of people who already live in (or drive through, or near) the immediate vicinity of the downtown train station is so much larger (and density, especially with regard to traffic and parking) inconveniences them so much already, that I think it makes more sense to localize the inconvenience in West Gloucester, where it will both affect far fewer people, and where the people who live there have been historically afflicted by so much less inconvenience than people living downtown.  (Of course, I would be disingenuous to claim it's mere coincidence that the citizens of downtown Gloucester are also my putative constituents, if I'm elected).

Again, I don't think it makes sense to create a single large zoning district, even around West Gloucester train station, with the density-increase sought by the law, but I do think there's a lot more to work with around that train station than around the downtown Gloucester one.



8. Do you think that every neighborhood in Gloucester is contributing its “fair share” of housing supply for the city? If not, which neighborhoods do you think are not contributing their fair share, and how should the City address this inequity?               


I suspect that East Gloucester and West Gloucester are not contributing their "fair share".  The fact that Ward 1 had to be expanded so much (pushing Ward 2 "westward") after the census, suggests that population, and by implication, housing density--already low in much of East Gloucester--is declining.  I do not know details about West Gloucester, but I know it's hard to find neighborhoods there like mine, where fewer than 50% of homes are single-family.  I think the city should address this inequity by increasing zoning density in these areas.  I think one possibility in approaching this is linking zoning-density-increases to the private roads issue, which today functions incredibly irrationally in Gloucester (and I think overall makes no sense--all roads should be public road, and fall under the equal responsibility of the city, rather than some amalgam of abutters having to pay to pave them).  If zoning density-increases could be paired with the conversion from private to public roads, this would help address some of the policy frustrations of residents of East and West Gloucester, at the same time as demanding that the accept greater housing density, and also help resolve the irrational public policy problem of private roads the city cannot legally repair.

9. Where do you stand on two or three family homes across all neighborhoods to meet the housing needs of  the average Gloucester worker?                                        


I think allowing these in the zoning ordinances is a great idea, but I think the ZBA would need to have real teeth and discretion in making sure that density grows gradually in neighborhoods where people are used to very low density, rather than plunking down a bunch of triple-deckers all side-by-side in a precipitous manner.

10. A recent attempt to propose new restrictive regulations on Gloucester’s Short Term Rentals failed to gain support due to lack of data and overall impact. What do you think the City can do, if anything, to restrict or limit short term rentals?                


To begin with, we need the city to do a better job enumerating and measuring short-term rentals.  Lack of data is a huge problem.  I think the second step after which units exactly are used for short-term rentals is to find ways to apply policies that will have differential limiting impact on short-term rentals owned by corporations or people who don't otherwise reside in Gloucester, and those rentals that exist in properties that are also actually occupied year-round (definitionally, but Gloucester residents).  The fact that we as a city cannot tell exactly how many units are being used for short-term rentals is an enormous shortcoming of city policy.

11a. Housing policy is closely linked to other policy areas, such as transit, racial justice, environmental issues, and economic sustainability. What do you think of housing policy as it interacts with these other issues?                                                  

I am most concerned about racial justice issues, and environmental issues.  For example, Ward 2 is probably the most racially heterogenous part of the city--I saw this when attending my daughter's kindergarten concerts and the rainbow of colors among the kids at Veterans @ St. Anne's this year--and this is why I wanted to live here.  I am very concerned that housing changes in Ward 2 do not have a dis-integrating affect on the population (as a result of the gentrification that can often drive people of color out of communities where nice, new, but quite costly housing comes in--like, for example, what might be happening at 20 Main St).

I am also really concerned about environmental issues.  I recognize that in recommending increased density in East & West Gloucester will necessarily mean cutting down trees, and perhaps even reducing wilderness land in those areas to allow more housing to be built (something which is in fact being done already, as can be seen on Concord St and Atlantic St, though I hardly think in ways that will contribute to housing being more affordable).  It does not appeal to me to reduce wilderness land in Gloucester, but and I think it should be done in a limited manner, but I believe it has to be done to some degree.

11b. Additionally, how do you think housing issues are affecting local businesses and employers?                                                                                                                     

I think I addressed this under #4 & #6


12a. Are there other specific housing initiatives that you think the City should prioritize?  


I think the city should consider a version of what's being done in Montgomery County, MD, and also in Somerville, where the city (or a housing fund) actually becomes part owner of some houses.

12b. Do you agree or disagree that the City of Gloucester should do more to encourage housing production of all types, including both market rate and income-restricted? If you agree, how can the City encourage housing production?                  


I agree.  I think the city could direct a housing fund to target dilapidated houses and/or businesses (like the derelict gas station at Rogers & Washington Sts), or disused buildings (like the huge building owned by the Catholic Church at 13 Mt Vernon St), and find ways to work with owners (and/or develop monetary sanctions or levies), in ways that can encourage existing structures that are not in use for anything to be used for house, or replacing eyesores that like gas station with affordable housing.  I really think and important aspect of tackling the housing problem is to confront unused or under-used structures that already exist (like 206 Main St, Brown's "mall"), and trying to see how they could be used for housing without big structural changes and tear-down/rebuilds that would distort the physical face of the city we know and love.

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