I would like to introduce myself to many in Newton whom I have not yet had the pleasure of meeting. I am Braden Houston and I have been living in Newton for over 15 years. Along with my wife Jennifer and our two daughters Beckett (10) and Blake (5), we have made Newton our home. We moved here because Newton is a great place to raise a young family—the schools are fantastic, the city is safe and the neighborhoods are closely knit. We absolutely love it and all of its charm.
A little bit more about me personally, I attended Bucknell University, received a Masters in History from Colgate University and an MBA in finance from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Professionally, I develop renewable energy projects, both wind and solar, throughout the country and around the world. The nature of my business requires me to assemble and manage teams of people across various professions, including engineers, lawyers, financiers and technical staff to successfully complete projects. Given the cost and scale of these projects I have experience managing very large budgets and working with significant numbers of people having many different perspectives. I believe my experience in the private sector, especially in finance and renewable energy, would be an asset to the City Council and provide a fresh perspective.
My wife and I are very involved in the community. Jennifer is a member of the Peirce PTA, while I coach Newton Girls Lacrosse and have served on the organization’s board for over four years. I also coach learn-to-skate with Newton Youth Hockey.
I am running for City Councilor (Ward 2 At-Large) because I felt compelled to get involved. Discussions with friends and neighbors revealed that many people shared my wife’s and my concerns about the big issues and questions facing our city. Issues like the Charter, our significant pension liabilities, environmental sustainability, the affordability of living in Newton and helping residents struggling to live in our city, especially seniors.
VOTING “NO” ON THE CHARTER
Having spoken to members of the Charter Commission, it is clear to me that they did their due diligence and research prior to forming their proposal. However, despite their comprehensive review, I am voting NO on the charter proposal as it is currently written. Many in Newton support the shrinking of the council, myself included, but we need to maintain a balance of ward (local) and at-large representation. The current proposal does not do that as it eliminates all ward representation in favor of at large representation. Local representation is the cornerstone of democracy. (Both my opponents are ardent supporters of the current revision – http://yesnewtoncharter.org/endorsed-by/ )
The Commission focused too heavily on the Council’s absolute size, as opposed to its balance. The downside of eliminating all ward councilors to size the council to 12 far outweighs the benefit of a smaller council. A sensible compromise (and the vast majority I have spoken with agree) would have been shrinking the Council to 16 councilors comprised of eight ward and eight at-large councilors. This solution maintains local representation and shrinks the council significantly – an elegant and simple solution where both groups benefit.
If elected, I would propose the formation of a new Charter Commission with the goal of a charter proposal born of compromise. While a delay in the charter revision is unfortunate, it is critical that we get this right.
GREENING NEWTON – WHILE HELPING THOSE IN NEED
For seven years I worked for a company called Citizens Energy, which had a unique, and more importantly, a sustainable model for helping those in need. The company had business enterprises that provided their profits to the non-profit parent company that then distributed that money out to people in the form of oil heat assistance. Starting in 2018, the State is augmenting its renewable energy regulations. These improvements will provide Newton the opportunity to help our financially insecure residents reduce their electric bills on an ongoing basis at no cost to tax payers. In short, the new state regulations increase the value of the power thereby allowing us to provide discounts to those most in need in Newton all while reducing our carbon footprint. I propose working with solar developers in Western MA to provide power to households, both seniors and others, living below certain income thresholds. (This would run in parallel to community aggregation.)
HOUSING AND AFFORDABILITY IN NEWTON
As everyone knows, there has been a great deal of debate and discussion as it relates to affordability in Newton. While I feel that housing prices are but one component of the total cost of living in Newton, it seems that some have tried to steer the debate only to housing with the goal of building as much housing as quickly as possible to enrich themselves without regard to neighbors’ concerns or the costs of the units. The cost of living is not driven solely by housing, but by taxes and utility costs as well, all of which need to be addressed.
More affordable housing is certainly needed in Newton, but I do not feel the solution is to develop a series of large scale apartment complexes where 75 to 80% of the units are selling at or above our already high sale price per square foot. (For example – 77 Court Street’s 25 market rate units are 7% to 26% above Newton’s already high $430 per square average – source http://www.luxuryboston.com/77-Court-Condos – the developer’s sale and marketing website).
In April, the city council passed an accessory apartment ordinance that will allow “grass-root” small scale and low-cost accessory apartments to be created and spread throughout the city. The ordinance will allow families and seniors to create small apartments on their property with the goal of supplementing income or housing family members. More accessory apartments will increase the housing stock in Newton, and in the price ranges needed. I would like to give that ordinance an opportunity to work before we embark on the development of a massive series of large-scale projects that could fundamentally and irreversibly alter the character of Newton that we all enjoy.
MORE BENEFITS AND LESS BURDEN: COMMERCIAL DEVELOPMENT
I would rather see our development energies focused on bringing businesses, firms and labs to Newton. This is simply sound government that will both increase and rebalance our tax base and rejuvenate the City while not simultaneously burdening our infrastructure and schools. To provide the City’s revenue, we need a better plan that just raising property taxes at every opportunity. This is making Newton unaffordable for so many, especially seniors who have lived here for decades.
As your Councilor, I promise to focus my energies on the things that the city council has the power to change. Let’s get back to an effective local government focused on things like paying our public servants, keeping our schools tops in the nation, investing in economic growth that will serve the city in the long term and for heaven’s sake fixing our roads.
I appreciate the opportunity to share some of my ideas and a bit about myself with you. Thank you for your consideration and I ask for your support on November 7.
If you would like to get involved please contact me or visit houston4newton.org