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Valerie Hanson Gilman
Candidate for At-Large

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

 

We have a huge housing problem in Gloucester. For our elderly population, according to David Houlden, the executive director of the Gloucester Housing Authority (GHA), as of August 1, 2023, there is a waiting list of 305 local elderly aged 60 or older and there are 238 non elderly disabled applicants on this same list. The rental waiting list on our Section 8 Rental Assistance list, regardless of age, is now 1140. Our state family housing list has 71 local residents and ten are elderly with dependents.  Our Federal Public Housing list has 45 local families.

 

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

 

Workforce housing, which includes those gainfully employed, is a program targeted at households that earn too much to qualify for traditional housing subsidies, but are still burdened by high market rates.  HUD defines affordable if a family pays no more than 30 % of its monthly income to total housing costs including rent, mortgage, taxes or insurance.

 

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 benefits, which minimizes the development of open space by limiting the network of streets and utilities and preserving natural topography within developments is an opportunity.  This development type, if done correctly, can preserve the visual neighborhood character.  If used effectively, it can also spread affordable housing opportunities to less dense residential zoning areas in our city. Our cluster zoning ordinance allows no more than 10 single family dwellings or five two family dwellings or 4 multi family dwellings which allows ample opportunity for inclusionary housing 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?                                

 

Local business owners, employers and workers are passionate about the need to increase workforce housing.  Because Gloucester is at the end of Route 128, the workforce housing problem is even more bleak. I recently attended a June 2023 meeting with the board and staff of Beverly Hospital/Addison Gilbert Hospital and local and state legislators. Nursing and medical technician staffing challenges are huge problems because of lack of affordable and workforce housing on Cape Ann and Gloucester.  Last year the Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce hosted a forum on affordable housing. The housing shortage was shared by small business owners 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?                                                  

We overcome affordable and workplace housing negativity by making sure we are communicative and clear about the zoning facts and data.  We also benefit by getting housing experts like David Houlden (GHA), Cape Ann Veteran’s Services, and Action/Grace Center leaders to share their experiences to the local community based on raw data, waiting lists and housing stories.    Our city would benefit by proactively addressing objections like shortages of parking, adequate water and sewer, safe streets, sidewalks and accessibility, clarity on open space commitments, and enforcement with holding contractors accountable to repairing roads post construction back to good or better condition.   This will be captured in the comprehensive planning process that begins on September 9, 2023.  Our outreach needs to be more than the GDT and our city website.  Ward outreach led by qualified experts and ward councilors, would help convey the facts that social media tends to misrepresent.

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 first  contentious city council permitting matter was a special council permit for height in excess of 35 feet of an ocean front property on Wingaersheek Road.  Personally,  I stayed  true to the requirements laid out in the ordinance and was the sole councilor who voted against the height permit because I felt the height of the building obstructed the “view” of the abutters behind them, as defined in 3.1.6.(b).  I learned the importance of visiting the site and seeing the property from the lens of the immediate abutters. This experience was challenged in court by the owner’s attorney and the debrief reminded councilors of the importance of staying true to the requisite criteria of the ordinance.

When I assumed the role of Planning and Development (P and D) Chair in my second term on the City Council, (2018/2019), I made a major change of heart on the Expresso project on 116 East Main Street.  I changed my mind from my P and D vote in support, to my full council vote in opposition following a passionate and well attended public hearing. This change of heart reminded me of the importance of listening to all of the abutters with the utmost attention.   When our decision not to permit was appealed by the owner and his legal team, I once again was reminded of the importance of being true to the unique requisite criteria of the zoning in consideration. As Chair of P and D, I began sending all councilors copies of the zoning ordinance in question prior to public hearings and full council votes.


My biggest take away was the importance of organized site visits where questions were asked by councilors and immediate abutters, and answered and discussed back in open session at P and D. If re-elected to be an At Large Councilor, I will remain passionate about the importance of site visits and listening to constituents and abutters, while staying true to the requisite criteria of each unique special council permit.

In addition, during the peak of Covid, in early 2022, as City Council President, I also organized five zoom ward meetings in order for Councilors to have additional public feedback on proposed zoning amendments initiated by the Planning Board that were designed to increase housing stock as summarized in the 2017 Housing Production Plan.  This listening format proved successful as it was one additional communications vehicle for taxpayers to be heard. 

 

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

 

MBTA Zoning under section 3A of MGL chapter 40A 

I support the mayor’s comprehensive plan as a way to seek input from our community on their views, concerns and vision of future housing in Gloucester.  As outlined in the “hopes” a component of this plan is to increase the understanding and support for affordable housing in addition to collaborating on a vision that respects the community and encourages reasonable growth, diversity, vitality and resilience.   This rigorous dialogue will allow our City Council to take a fresh look at downtown zoning within .5 miles of the transit system so that we can  prepare for continuing the public conversation of reasonable downtown zoning housing in which multifamily housing is permitted as of right, a requirement of the state 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?   

 

As noted in my values on my campaign material, I  recommend that the updating zoning in Gloucester’s downtown train station area as covered under section 3A of MGL chapter 40A,  is reasonable and well planned affordable and workforce housing initiatives so that seniors, veterans and young families can afford to live in Gloucester.   This is currently NOT the case.  As leaders, we will need to listen to the public and work together to solve the housing crisis in our City.

 

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?                          

 

Yes. It is helpful that we look to seek ways to increase our inclusionary housing opportunities in all sections of our City.  I am proud that in my tenure on the council, we were successful in rolling out a well thought out accessory dwelling zoning ordinance introduced by our Community Development Department and the Planning Board’s oversight, that helps owners create a secondary dwelling unit created within or as an extension of an existing dwelling that contains separate bath and kitchen facilities.  It allows seniors to age in place if they take advantage of this zoning ordinance. This can be applied in multiple zoning areas throughout the city. In addition, our cluster housing zoning ordinance can also be rolled out in outlying areas of the city, provided that they minimize the development of our valued open space by limiting the network of streets and preserving our natural topography as to preserve our neighborhood’s character.  This also allows us ample opportunity for additional inclusionary housing units.  

 

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 you may recall, I supported that the City Council amend the zoning ordinance section 2.3.1 “residential uses”, use #6 conversion to or new multifamily or apartment dwelling, three dwelling units, by allowing such use by-right in the R5 zoning district. I believe that this zoning was invaluable to current owners who were looking for ways to age in place and provide reasonable additions to their current two family home to expand, provided there was compliance to requirements as set forth in the zoning ordinance.  I felt that this was reasonable and a mini step forward to increase our inclusionary housing opportunities from its current status of slightly under 8 percent, to the requirement of 10% set by the state.  However, it was not supported by the majority of the City Council.

 

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?                                              

 

In 2019, the City adopted the Community impact fee for short term rental by adding 3% onto the 6% of rental fees that Gloucester collects from local lodging excise tax.  In 2022, there was $50,000 added to the affordable housing trust.

I am looking forward to our council revisiting a more comprehensive  short term rental ordinance, with possible consideration for grandfathering owner occupied short term rental housing units, but not grandfathering units that are bought and built by a developer for the sole purpose of making financial profits.  This might be a good compromising step to signal that our City wishes to support our residents to age in place while not interrupting their needed income generated by these short term rentals.

 

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?   

Housing policy closely linked to other policy areas such as transit, racial justice, environmental issues, and economic sustainability need to be proactive and not reactive.  Areas to consider include energy assistance as supported by Action, as well as assessor’s office opportunities for deferred payments for property taxes, water, sewer, and betterment payments for those who qualify.  Environmental issues requiring linkage to housing policy include mold and radon compliance guidelines, lead paint, and air (smoke free) households and access to safe drinking water.  Our Gloucester Housing Authority  works closely with residents to ensure that our city housing developments have a complaint reporting vehicle so their voices are not marginalized. This needs to be the standard for all affordable housing developments current and future.

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

                                                

Housing issues are affecting local businesses and employers.  While Human Resources Strategy requires employers to attract, retain and motivate their workforce, lack of workforce housing makes it difficult to attract personnel, and retain them, when housing costs and rental units become exorbitant for young families.  In Gloucester, according to a report of “actives by price band” since May 1, 2023, there is one lone listing of a single family house in the 275 - 299K range and 4 listings in the 600 - 699K range.  The total listing from May 1st to now, at 20 and the median price is $1,592,500.   

In terms of sales by price band, there is one sale between $330 - $349; one sale  $350 - 399K;  two sales between $450 - 499 and 16 sales between $500 - $599.


On June 9th,  2023, I attended a Legislative breakfast at Beverly Hospital filling in for Mayor Verga.  A key topic between Beverly Hospital and Addison Gilbert Hospital staff, as presented by their Human Resources Director,  was the hiring challenges that they face to find adequate housing for their technicians and nursing staff throughout all of Cape Ann.  This problem will not be solved overnight, but there is little doubt that this housing stock shortage adversely affects our small and large businesses here in Gloucester.

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

 

Specific housing that needs the most focus in Gloucester includes affordable and workforce housing for senior citizens, veterans and young families. According to the Affordable Housing Trust (AHT) Strategic Plan FY25-FY28, which I encourage community members and elected officials to review, state that the areas in most need include  rental units affordable to households with up to 50% of the Area Median Income is a housing priority.  In addition, supportive housing options, particularly for formerly unhoused households, those at risk of housing instability, and senior populations is another priority.  Finally, senior age-restricted affordable housing requires attention.  This information was obtained by the AHT when the planning consultant interviewed 12 local officials and community housing advocates.

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 that the City of Gloucester should do more to encourage housing production of all types, including both market rate and income restricted.   Drawing on the expertise of the AHT Strategic Plan, some of the priorities to encourage housing production, are outlined on Page 7 of the STRAT plan. The key words are reasonable and thoughtful housing production.

The Affordable Housing Trust advisory board highlights several of these  priorities;
-Rental assistance programs
-Smaller projects (infill lots with plus or minus 6 units)
-Development on City owned land
-Habitat-type projects
-Seeking initial seed money

Thanks Housing 4 All Gloucester for creating this housing questionnaire for mayoral and city council candidates for the 2024/2025 term.

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