Will the Mayor’s Housing Plan Work?

Top of the day to all,

Mayor Setti Warren has a plan to build housing in Newton.  Proponents claim it’s a wonderful plan.

The plan is to build 3,200 new housing units in Newton, 800 of which will be affordable units listed on the Subsidized Housing Inventory.  Affordable to whom, we do not know.  To the paranoidiacs in the 14th village, Clifford says this is not code.  We really have no idea who will be able to rent the units.  From what we have seen so far, it will not be Newton municipal workers or blue collar Newton families.

3,200 units shared throughout the City’s eight Wards equals 400 units per ward, including 100 units of affordable housing per Ward.  It sounds doable.  The Comprehensive Plan has a map that shows potential locations.  They happen to be at each commuter train and Green Line stop in the City.  The locations are represented by large black spots.  (As an aside, I heard they were donated to the City by the heirs of RLS.)

There is also a strategy to accomplish the plan.  First, we eliminate the politics in our land planning by taking the Special Permit Granting Authority away from the City Council and giving it to the Mayor who will then pick the building sites and the developers.  As a back up, if the City Council acts in an obstreperous way and refuses a most reasonable request to surrender its special permit granting authority we can change the charter to eliminate Ward Councilors.  They are acknowledged to be most difficult and demanding in representing their constituents.  We can also eliminate half the Councilors at large with a residency requirement to live in a particular Ward.

Back to the Mayor’s Plan.  Is it real or fictional?  The Plan calls for every fourth unit to qualify as a low income unit.  Yet we have a new project in Newtonville where this goal is not achieved.

The Washington Street (Orr Building) project proposes to build 171 units, 15% of which will qualify for the Subsidized Housing Inventory (not 25%).  (another aside, to maintain the status quo in the SHI we need to provide 17 low income units.  The proposal is to provide 26 units, a net gain of nine units against our 800 +/- deficit.  This does not look like a good deal to me, particularly when I am told that 22 units of naturally affordable housing will be demolished to make room for this project.)

This looks like a set back to me.  Shouldn’t the existing naturally affordable units be replaced before calculating the gains under the mayor’s Housing Plan?

If we are going to have a housing plan should all projects conform or just some?

But then again, what do I know?  There are plenty who will agree, like Sergeant Schultz, “I know nothing at all.”   (;-)

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Janet StermanTom DavisLynne LeBlanc Recent comment authors
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Lynne LeBlanc

Older buildings tend to house the naturally affordable units because property depreciates at about 2.5%/yr. Thus, older buildings become more affordable to a greater variety of economic classes. The naturally affordable housing we are decimating in Newton is having a negative impact on our city. Housing that people could afford without a subsidy, is now only affordable with a subsidy; or, for those who do not qualify for a subsidy, Newton becomes a more and more unaffordable city.

We are losing 22 naturally affordable units but that does not count against the 26 units the developers is boasting he will provide. In essence, we are gaining only 4 (yep, count ‘em 4!) units for the major upheaval to Newtonville. That is a shell game, or a bait and switch, but certainly disingenuous calculations on the part of proponents of “affordable housing.” The Mayor’s promise of 800 affordable units out of 3200 is unrealistic; no developer will do that. Our inclusionary zoning only requires 10% affordable units; how did the Mayor think he could get 25%?

A final note: most affordable units are paid for by the market rate apartments. This means that even if we get to the 25% affordable rate the Mayor indicated, that will significantly drive up the cost of housing for the other 75% of units. This reiterates escalating housing costs and a city of have and have nots.

Tom Davis

If the question is “will the Mayor’s housing plan work,” I’d ask: What exactly is / how do we define “work” in this context?

Janet Sterman

Among the new faces in which have recently entered the revolving door at Newton City Hall Setti Warren’s latest Director of Planning, Barney Heath, had his secretary (they are now called “Community Engagement Managers”) contact me. The intent of the email was to (1) send me a copy of the Newton Leads 2040 document and (2) invite me and fellow Newton Corner resident Richard Belkin to meet and with Barney. The intent, according to Lily Canan Reynolds email is to present some information and receive feedback as well as “to hear from you about Newton Corner where some potential sites for future housing are proposed”. Richard Belkin and I have been advocates for Newton Corner for many years and both serve on the Advisory Council for CDBG funding in Newton Corner. After James Freas and company came to Newton Corner in May presenting spending CDBG for our neighborhood without any taking under consideration traffic and safety improvements we have been asking – for years. When pressed to provide a list of improvements and priorities wanted in Newton Corner, neighbors convened quickly and responded to the Planning Department and DPW. These priorities were submitted via email and we have heard nothing since. As one may imagine Newton Corner interested citizens are not excited about providing additional feedback or input to the city. One thing we requested is all overhead lighting in the ‘Circle of Death’ for automobile and pedestrian traffic be working. Take a look at the streetlights in Newton Corner… Read more »

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