So, I didn’t win, and I’m happy to be welcomed back to my role blogging with Village14 after a year-plus hiatus.
One thing that has been rolling around in my mind throughout the campaign: We, as a community, need to talk about renters. There are a lot of us in Newton. 28.9%, in fact. There are a lot of apartment buildings in Newton too, although many of them are tucked away in places you would never think to look (unless you tried to knock every door in your neighborhood).
And yet there is only one renter on the incoming 24-member Newton City Council: Andrea Kelley, who is also a former Newton homeowner. So every single member of the incoming City Council has owned a home in Newton, despite renters making up 28.9% of the city. Renters do run for City Council: Nicole Castillo in 2017, Tarik Lukas and me in 2019 (that I know of). But they haven’t been winning.
So why does this matter? Well, we talk a lot about apartments. In my conversations, I felt there were many times that being a renter meant to voters that there was a reason to question a candidate’s commitment to the community. Longtime owners would compare their mortgage payments that were set a decade ago or more to current rental prices. There was a clear and near-universal preference among homeowners to see condos built instead of apartments.
Meanwhile, as I often mentioned on the campaign trail, I watched one close friend – a 40+ year Newton resident and longtime renter – almost pushed out by a massive rent increase. And 2 more friends who were active community members – one in their 20s, another unintentionally retired – forced to leave because of lack of affordable options. I had breakfast with 2 sisters who were scared to death that their mother couldn’t afford her property taxes but also can’t afford the rents on a unit subsidized at 80% of Area Median Income (AMI). I heard endless concerns about high rents in new apartments but a startling lack of understanding of what it is actually like to be renting in this market right now at different price points and family sizes.
I don’t have a 5 point plan or any suggestions other than to say that we should start having this conversation. The 28.9% of our population who rent deserve to have a voice. I hope this will spark the incoming City Council to think deeply about what this means for their constituents, and voters to think differently about future candidates who rent.
EDIT: A comment from a Facebook group was removed from this post.