The issues surrounding housing are very complex and will require a multi-pronged approach. The cost of living in Waltham is increasing at an alarming rate, displacing some of the most vulnerable members of our community. Housing costs are increasing across the MetroWest area because there is a housing shortage. The shortage can be addressed with development projects that increase the city’s available housing, ideally by renovating existing and abandoned structures throughout the city. In order for the developments to actually address the city’s affordability needs, the City Council needs to reduce the number of exemptions from inclusionary zoning laws which permit builders to circumvent Waltham’s affordable housing quota requirement. With only 1291 designated affordable units (including 35 from WATCH CDC) for a general population over 63,000, we will never meet our affordable housing needs unless the City Council increases the percentage of affordable units in every new development to at least 15% (from 10% currently). Furthermore, because Waltham is not meeting the state’s affordable housing quota under Chapter 40B, the local government has limited power to approve new projects. Increasing the local affordable quota for new developments will help us meet the state’s quota, and restore power to city council and the zoning board, an important step for long-term city planning.
While more housing is built to meet demand so that prices eventually fall, the issue of short-term displacement can be addressed by protecting tenants. To start, there should be limits to the percentage increase that landlords can impose year over year on their tenants. I’ve personally heard from residents who have experienced 21% rent increases from one year to the next. This can result in residents moving every year and, after several years, driving residents out of Waltham, out of retirement, or worse. In addition, given the boom in construction throughout our city, tenants need protections so that they are not forced out of their homes by owners that want to sell.
The policies mentioned above, however, do not address homelessness. The number of homeless families in Massachusetts has doubled in the past 9 years; the Community Day Center of Waltham on Felton Street serves hundreds of people each year. I plan to contribute part of my salary as city councilor to the Community Day Center and the Middlesex Human Service Agency, while I work with council and the mayor to better fund and support the great work these groups are doing to help our city’s homeless population.