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Jason Grow
Candidate for At-Large
Incumbent 

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

 

We absolutely have a housing crisis in Gloucester. It is impacting everyone in the middle and lower income brackets, including young adults/families, people wanting to downsize and seniors who are over-housed in homes far too big for them, but unable to downsize and remain in their community.

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

                                                                                                        

There is housing that is affordable, and legally defined Affordable housing, with the difference being whether the property is income-restricted based on HUD guidelines. Anyone who is spending more than 30% on housing costs is considered "housing-cost burdened" even if making more than the HUD guidelines. Workforce housing is housing that is affordable to anyone earning between 80% and 120% of the average median income (AMI). In real terms, the AMI for a family in Gloucester is about $83,000 while the HUD Low Income level for a family of 4 in our region is $118,450. We clearly do not have a healthy balance in Gloucester between the supply of and demand for housing that is affordable to even those in the "workforce" bracket, much less those who fall below it.

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 do support the creation of more multi-family housing. We had, last year, the opportunity to allow for more in-fill multi-family housing on a modest/incremental scale through the proposed amendments to our zoning. Personally I'm of the belief that all our neighborhoods should, and can, share in the distribution of some multi-family construction.

Our current zoning, written in the 1970s, was designed to keep people out, plain and simple, however with changing demographics, we need to reevaluate whether those 50-year-old regulations are still best serving our needs. We should re-examine minimum lot sizes throughout the city and be more realistic in terms of how much additional density can be spread throughout the city with minimal impact on existing neighborhoods.

For those who are primarily concerned with the preservation of open space, supporting more cluster developments not only creates housing with the least impact on open space, but by virtue of their density, also create mandated affordable units.

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?

                                                                                                                                   

On the wage front, there's a dichotomy between the challenges of finding workers to work in our largely service-based industry and the willingness to pay more for labor. As we make the cost of living in Gloucester more expensive we push out the lower-income workforce. Those displaced workers aren't going to spend the money and time to commute to Gloucester from lower cost communities to work at minimum or near minimum wage when there are jobs closer to their homes. Consequently, businesses suffer for lack of staffing.  The creation of more affordable housing is not only beneficial for the workforce community, it's smart for the business community as well.

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

 

One of the more common responses during the zoning discussions of 2022 was that 'we absolutely need more affordable housing, just not in our neighborhood.'  Folks living in downtown wanted other neighborhoods to bear more of the increase in density whereas those living in outlying areas pointed their fingers towards downtown as the logical place to develop. I think if people stop thinking about affordable and workforce housing as some sort of negative, instead of perhaps an entry point in the housing market for their own children, it may reshape their vision of who workforce housing is serving. "Workforce" means the very people we depend on for a functioning, healthy, thriving community.

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?    

                                                                                                                              

My wife and I would be hard-pressed to be able to buy the house we live in today. I know for a fact that despite our three daughters' excellent educations and job prospects, they absolutely wouldn't be able to afford to live in the community in which they were born and raised. As a councilor, I supported the zoning amendment changes that would have facilitated more in-fill housing. I led the Council efforts to strengthen and clarify our Inclusionary Housing Ordinance. I've been a vocal advocate of the need for increased affordable housing and the creation of housing that is more affordable acknowledging that our demographics are changing dramatically from where they were a generation or two ago.

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

 

The first plan is to eliminate the massive amount of false information that has been generated in opposition to the 3A requirements. Despite the mandate, we are in charge of what we do with it. Despite some assertions that we can simply ignore the law and say "no" to the state mandate, we can't and we shouldn't. We need to better understand the framework on which we will construct this overlay district. Regardless of what happens with the Comprehensive Planning initiative, which is a city-wide project, we will still need to assemble a thoughtful, fact and data-based, multi-family zoning district that best serves our community. Remember that NOTHING in the law requires that actual building of any units. It only requires that we create a zoning framework that allows for the potential of new multi-family units IF a property meets the criteria we establish. IF X, and Y, and Z conditions are met, a property owner can build A. It doesn't throw open the door to rampant, unrestrained development, but allows us to craft a zoning overlay that makes sense for Gloucester and our long-term needs.

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?  

                                                                                                                             

There are still too many questions to ask and data-gathering that are needed before we can look sensibly at specific suggestions. Do we look only at the creation of 3-family multi-family units or do we look at denser unit construction? Which would serve community needs more? Until we know what we're working with I wouldn't want to get locked into any one answer.

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?                                                                                                                                    

No. That being said, there are far more 2- & 3-family units in otherwise thought of as single-family neighborhoods, belying the argument that these neighborhoods can't possibly sustain any increase in density. The zoning change recommendations that came out of the Housing Production Plan were a good start to creating the opportunity for nominal to modest increases in in-fill housing, but those were defeated. Personally I think if they had been brought up this year instead of at the beginning of the Council term last year, they may have gained more traction. It's clear that this problem is not going to go a way, nor will it balance itself on its own. We're in a holding pattern until the city's Comprehensive Planning Initiative is completed, but in the mean time we can be supportive of beneficial affordable housing proposals.

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

 

As I've already indicated, I think Gloucester missed an opportunity to facilitate the creation of more of these units across the city. These kinds of units already exist all over the city, often completely invisibly. Making the process slightly less burdensome isn't going to open a floodgate of over-development.

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?                                                                                                                                   

The ordinance was pulled back more because of timing than the substance of the proposal. I fully expect that it, or something similar, will come before the next council. There's a lot we can do to regulate short term rentals, but at the same time, recognize that historically we are a community that is heavily dependent on tourism. There's a balance to be found on the prevalence of short term rentals, their regulation and their impact on the overall long-term housing economy.

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 think of those who wish to see Gloucester cast in amber, to be forever as it was, frozen in time... well, things that are cast in amber are also dead. There's no solution that turns Gloucester into a Disneyland version of itself that doesn't kill the soul and vibrancy of our community.  If we wish to see a community that is economically, racially, culturally, and age diverse, a community where people who work here or grew up here or are aging here can afford to remain here,  where local businesses can find the workers they need, then we need to move aggressively to address our housing problems.

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

                                                                                                               

Businesses can't thrive without a workforce. If that workforce can't afford to live here, they will move to where they can, and if that's the motivation for moving in the first place, they will find work closer to where they live. Businesses already are modifying their hours or outright closing down citing staffing issues in an economy with 2.5% unemployment, the lowest rate in decades. To stay open, businesses will either need to find new sources for workers, raise their wages or we, as a community, will need to make it more economical for our workforce to continue to live and work here.

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

 

We're going to have a substantial task coming into compliance with the MBTA/TOD mandate. We should also consider looking at modifying our regulations on lot coverage to rein in the construction of massive single-family homes in favor of 2- or multi-family units and investigate whether our existing zoning districts are best serving our community and perhaps modifying them so that more properties become conforming. Again, the city should be working closely with affordable housing entities to identify properties and opportunities for construction of fully affordable developments.

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?                                                                                                                              

Agree. I've pretty much addressed these points in the previous answers. Maintaining the status quo may seem a romantic notion, especially by those removed from the consequences, but ignoring what is clearly happening around us is going to more dramatically change our community than recognizing the challenges and finding a way to meet them.

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