Candidate for At-Large
1. Do you believe we have a housing problem in Gloucester? If so, whom does it affect?
We 100% have an affordable housing problem in Gloucester and it impact almost everyone negatively. From those of us trying to afford to stay in Gloucester and who are raising children with hopes they can stay in our community to people hoping to "age in place" to our employers both large and small being able to attract employees.
2. What are your definitions of affordable housing and workforce housing? Who do you see as needing affordable and workforce housing in Gloucester?
Affordable, by definition, means housing that is affordable to people making 80% of the area median income. Unfortunately, our median income area is the Boston area median income. It would be preferable to having housing that is affordable for people who are earning 80% of the Gloucester median income, which would require units to be significantly less expensive. Workforce housing by definition is for people earning slightly more and closer to the median. Until we have a real grasp on the incomes in Gloucester I don't think we can define it well for our community but without doing much analysis, we are woefully short.
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?
Clustered housing, which ultimately is designed to preserve more open space and still house the same number of people is a smart form of development. I was happy to support that when I was on the Council the first time in the early 2000s. Unfortunately, it hasn't been used that much. Cluster housing can be done in every part of our community.
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?
Living in Gloucester is expensive! Owning/operating a business in Gloucester is expensive!
5. What do you see as the major barriers in our community to creating more affordable/workforce housing? How do we overcome them?
There are a number of barriers. Acknowledging the enormity of this problem is the first step and a big one. I know a lot of people have been working on that part and we should be grateful.
Being open to multiple solutions is, strangely, a barrier. If one way isn't specifically impactful, it doesn't mean other methods are competing. No single individual or organization has a monopoly on every good method to overcome these barriers.
There is a very palpable negativity surrounding helping people who can't afford to live in Gloucester and it's not just racism but also classism. There is no place in our community for that in private conversations or in public dialogue. That is another barrier.
Lastly, there is a tremendous communication gap. Using state wide numbers and national figures doesn't help people grasp what we can do locally.
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?
I know the struggle of being able to afford living in our community. As a single father of two children I know first hand how difficult it can be to make ends meet. My grandfather grew up with dirt floors, trash bags for windows and wouldn't ask "what's for dinner? but "is there dinner?"
When I served on the City Council before I was on the Planning & Development Committee of the City Council and chaired it for the last two years. I am proud of our committee's ability to assist applicants to work through the permitting process and respectfully include neighborhood concerns in a way that wasn't confrontational.
I also submitted an order to create the Zoning Ordinance Review Task Force specifically to try to find ways to make permitting easier. I don't believe the Task Force is still in place but for about 10 years they met and made recommendations to the Council for improvements long after I finished my first two terms.
7a. What do you think is the best plan for meeting the requirements of the MBTA zoning?
I’m sure there are plenty of laws people don’t like but it’s important that we know when “an Act”, turns into “Guidelines” and then turns into a “Law”. The reason this law came into place is because many communities have made it hard to build affordable housing. To me this law is a symptom of the problem and not actually the solution. If you read the law carefully it literally states that properties that are zoned to comply with this law MUST NOT be deed restricted as affordable. It’s almost ironic.
I also don’t love that the State has threatened to take taxpayer funds designed to help with the affordability of housing away from communities that don’t comply with this new law. Who really gets punished in that scenario? The exact people we want to help and who the State claims to want to help.
And lastly, I don’t love that this is more trickle down economics which has proven not to work.
All that said, the real shame is that with local control we haven’t solved our housing challenge and now we have lost local control in this area of our community.
In a perfect world, there's an opportunity to work with the State to create a plan that works for Gloucester, (which is vastly different than many other cities in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts considering our 400 year old roads and ancient infrastructure) and still considered to be in compliance. Already, we have seen a slight modification to the law now allowing multiple locations that can be designated for compliance if transportation is provided to the train station. Perhaps we can lead the effort to create a negotiated compliance if we create the opportunity for an agreed number of units to be built. It concerns me greatly that the law specifically states that anything that is in compliance can not be deed restricted as affordable, really undercutting the basis for this law.
Perhaps there is a location where one very tall building, much like the Mill building on Maplewood Ave, in a different location with bus access could help us meet the requirements of this law and not try to fit a square peg into a round hole that negatively impacts our infrastructure and quality of life for some people. I accept that the current relationship with the State regarding this law does not allow for much creativity and their one size fits all approach is the law. I’m hoping there’s a push to comply with the intent and comply with the reality but also fits for Gloucester. In my experience, bold leadership based on healthy community input and dialogue can create positive change. I’m ready for the challenge.
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?
See the prior answer. But, I would add, any change would require very robust public dialogue.
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?
Based on our zoning code alone, each neighborhood isn't contributing equally to affordable housing. And to people who live in dense areas, like I do, it might feel like an inequity. However, some are raised in the neighborhood their parents move into or as adults move into the neighborhoods they move into and invest based on the reasons that are important to them. It’s never a guarantee that a neighborhood is going to stay the same forever, but there should be some reasonable expectation that if there is going to be a change to their neighborhood they have some small input, even a small amount or at a minimum, notification, of that change.
People choose where they live based on what they can afford, their neighborhood school, access to amenities, proximity to family, access to their jobs, access to nature, etc, etc. To make it “equal” would mean to change the rules under which they purchased that property. Slight changes are to be expected, but it wouldn’t be fair to make Magnolia for example as dense as downtown without significant input from the residents who live there. So contributing equitably might not always be fair.
9. Where do you stand on two or three family homes across all neighborhoods to meet the housing needs of the average Gloucester worker?
With proper notification, I believe every property owner should have the right to apply for permitting for 2-3 family homes.
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?
Short Term Rentals may be a valuable tool for people who can no longer afford to stay in their homes year round to subsidize their income for a few months of the year. People who rent Gloucester property add a tremendous positive impact to our local economy and that can not be discounted. That said, I believe that homes that are not owner occupied for some significant portion of the year may like be only an investment in someone’s portfolio who doesn’t necessarily vote in Gloucester and contribute to our community. I don’t think it’s completely reasonable to say that the short term rental market is the cause of rising real estate prices because if somehow short term rentals were every eliminated (and I’m not advocating that) there’s a strong likelihood that those properties would not be sold at anything that would be affordable.
A short term rental on the back shore is far better when owned by and contributing to a Gloucester family than a corporate entity and if that Gloucester family sold that property it would not add to the affordable housing stock.
One key piece is that we don’t have reliable data to work off of except that the income from these properties do help some Gloucester families stay here and that the people who rent these properties contribute to our local economy. I would support a review of this and a partnership with the folks who are already doing this to get the information we need and to give them a seat at the table if there is any effort to craft new regulations.
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?
Firstly, I 100% agree with the premise that these are all intertwined. Unfortunately, our boards and commissions work in silos. One of the things that started under the leadership of Mayor Bell with assistance from Janis Stelluto and the Planning Board was regularly occurring gatherings of all the related boards and commissions. This practice ended after his time as Mayor and should be reinstituted. We should also be meeting regularly with our neighbors on Cape Ann to look at joint opportunities to collaborate on many of these intertwined issues and I would look to our state delegation to assist us in pulling that together.
Currently, the lack of affordable housing impacts employers, employees, our municipal workers, including police, fire, DPW workers, teachers, and paraprofessionals, our artists, our elderly and our young adults. If we don’t address the housing crisis head on, one of Gloucester’s best attributes, our sense of community will be gone.And our sense of community is precious.
11b. Additionally, how do you think housing issues are affecting local businesses and employers?
I believe I addressed this in the prior question.
12a. Are there other specific housing initiatives that you think the City should prioritize?
Specifically, I'd like to see the the City of Gloucester, as a municipality, partner on developing deed restricted affordable housing, (for rental and ownership) with a preference for Gloucester residents, using vacant city-owned land, increasing our planning department staff and leveraging paid City staff to manage that kind of a process. We could work with the Housing Authority and when someone moves out of senior housing (or passes away) see if we can get a second story built to increase housing so that we could have units of affordable housing for able bodied people on the second floors. (Lincoln Park, Poplar Park) come to mind.
I also advanced the idea of workforce housing on the tops of some of the buildings in the industrial park. (Cape Ann Medical Center comes to mind). Yes, there would need to be an improvement in amenities, but there wouldn't be the neighborhood opposition that comes with some proposals. This idea was not favored by the administration or the majority of EDIC members.
I also think the City should do more to encourage "Tiny Houses" to lower costs and potentially allow for more of them without needing vast lot sizes.
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?
In the first question, I agreed 100% that we have an affordable housing problem. Though I always have an open mind and though my real estate agent friends are convinced we have a market rate housing problem, I’m not convinced. We have an affordable housing problem. We need to focus on building deed restricted affordable housing. We do not need assistance with building more luxury condos. To suggest that building more luxury condos will somehow mean it will lead to more affordable housing would be equal to the far right Reaganomics arguments that tax cuts for billionaires is good for the middle and lower middle classes. I fundamentally disagree, and have 50 years of data to prove that. I’m not sure when the wealthiest people co-opted the affordable housing cause, but it is borderline foolish to think that trickle down economics is suddenly going to work now.
Lastly, I want to thank Housing4AllGloucester for leading on this issue, asking very thoughtful questions and organizing lots of ‘Type-A’ personality types to stay on task and provide these answers. If I’m in a position to continue to serve, I welcome this hard work.