1. In a few sentences, how do you approach questions related to housing? Do you generally support building more dense housing, less dense housing, or maintaining the level of density we currently have in Brookline?
I would like to see fair housing outcomes for our neighbors and neighborhoods. A fair, just, and clear message that we tell both homeowners and those who invest in improving our town's built environment is necessary to do this. I know that a family will one day live in the home built on a vacant lot, or in the extra unit that a developer is requesting a special permit to add. Is it fair for us to deprive that family of a home for individual asthetic preferences? I don't think so, and I know many Brookliners feel the same way. This means denser housing. Just as Brookliners in the past allowed their large lots to be split and new, denser housing to be built, and those historic allowances are what permit us to live in Brookline, we must extend the same grace forward to other families.
2. In the Fall 2021 Town Meeting, Brookline for Everyone board members sponsored a warrant article on parking minimums (WA23). The compromise version the petitioners moved did two things: first, it decreased minimum parking requirements near transit (almost all of North Brookline) by approximately 50% — to 0.5 minimum required parking spaces per studio and 1 minimum required parking space for 1 or more bedroom dwellings. Second, it gave the Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals the ability to further reduce or eliminate parking requirements by special permit to facilitate adaptive re-use of existing structures or in exchange for certain counterbalancing amenities such as greater open space or more affordable housing than otherwise required. How did/would you have voted, and why?
I was a proofreader helping Michael Zoorab with WA23, and would have voted favorable action on this Warrant Article. The reduction of each parking space means potentially adding 200+ square feet of living space to a dwelling, all without adding the additional massing that often causes new housing to be opposed by abutters. WA23 will likely lead to less additional multi-car housing units in neighborhoods that are near transit, which will decrease car traffic, noise and pollution in our neighborhoods. Finally, it will result in additional units being fashioned from or added to existing structures, allowing Brookline to create new housing with minimal cost and neighborhood impact. All together, this WA has few, if any, drawbacks, and has a large benefit for our neighborhoods.
3. Chapter 40B is a Massachusetts state law that allows multi-family housing projects to circumvent local zoning rules if 10% of the homes in a Town aren't considered affordable. As Brookline hovers around the 10% threshold, what should Brookline do to encourage affordable housing for low and moderate income families and individuals beyond this state requirement?
Significant debate is spent on creating affordable units, but Brookline should also seek ways to streamline and reduce the burden of its zoning relief processes on low and moderate income property owners. Brookline zoning law is nearly incomprehensible to the public, yet it has the largest impact on people of average means whose housing lots, for unclear reasons, have almost uniformly been labled as nonconforming. Policymakers should realize that these families often cannot afford the thousands of dollars in legal fees necessary to do even a small expansion, never mind risk the finances necessary to seek special permits for larger projects such as adding an additional unit. Complicated zoning presents this barrier not only to the public's understanding of what their rights are generally, but also creates equity issues where immigrants and people of lower incomes are locked out of even favorable zoning conditions. There is no affordable way to understand exactly what can be built where in our town. These zoning barriers also often mean that the economics do not work for owners of rental property to rebuild their old rental housing stock, causing many Brookline renters to live in housing that does not meet current standards. Unwinding zoning complications results in unlocking more and better housing. I think our Brookline families deserve that.
4. Housing policy is closely linked to other policy/political areas, such as transit, racial justice, and environmental policy. How do you think about housing policy as it interacts with these other issue areas?
Housing policy is a driving force impacting each of these issues. The laws surrounding housing affect the quantity, quality, location, and price of housing. This in turn affects our neighborhood transportation options, who is able to live in certain neighborhoods, and how those neighborhoods impact the environment. Dense housing is efficient housing; when more residents live alongside each other, as they do in my neighborhood, more transportation options become practical, green space can be preserved, resources can be shared, and connections can be made. Many people relate to the power of housing policy through its use in the past to create and preserve inequality, and the ways that it did so are often complex. The future does not have to be this way. Housing policy can take a generation to have an impact, but when it does that impact is significant. By understanding this, we can guide housing policy to create better outcomes for our communities.
5. Anything else you’d like to add about housing production, affordability, and economic development in town?
There are many issues and interests to balance in an topic as impactful as housing policy. It will take hard work to find a new path forward. This should not discourage us from seeking better outcomes. If our efforts make the lives of the people residing in our neighborhoods better, it will be worth it.