I’ve been watching the Northland debate on the sidelines for months and for the most part I haven’t chimed in, but I have to say that I am quite disappointed, saddened and ashamed at many of the arguments on the No side. I grew up in Newton, went to Newton public schools from K-12, now I live here and I am raising my family here (my son is in kindergarten at Zervas and my daughter will soon follow) and I also have my business here. So I am quite invested in our community.
As someone who has dedicated my entire career to building affordable housing combined with my strong personal belief that creating housing opportunities for all is our society’s collective obligation, a yes vote means so much to me on so many levels.
No plan is perfect. Do I wish Northland had at least 20%+ affordability that would serve lower incomes too? Yes. Do I wish that there were more two and three bedroom apartments for families, especially on the affordable side? Absolutely. But like everything in life, we can’t let perfection be the enemy of the good – in this case, I would say the enemy of the great.
We live in a city, not a small rural town, and our expectations for our City need to be aligned with the fact that for cities to be successful and inclusive they must inherently change and grow. If you want to live in and reap the benefits of a city (fun places to go out and eat, commercial opportunities, great academic institutions, etc.), change is something that we all must accept. Lots of individuals don’t accept those things and many of them live further out in places that don’t have our amenities. Newton is surrounded by two major highways and has multiple light rail, commuter rail, bus lines, and other public mass transit options (shared bikes! uber and lyft that arrive in minutes). We has room to accommodate many more people here. If you think we have a messed up public transit system pay a visit to Philly or Detroit or Charlotte and you’ll think the T was sent down from heaven.
Northland’s units will add more diversity to our City – period, end of story The market rate units will help relieve supply constraints and will help stabilize and reduce housing costs. There are enough units in this development to actually make a material difference in the overall market. It is basic supply and demand microeconomics that has been reiterated by academic study after academic study.
Will there be more traffic? Definitely! Will it be total gridlock? Absolutely not. A deal that creates gridlock where no one would want to go is totally unfinanceable. No lender or equity provider is going to provide hundreds of millions of dollars to this deal if they thought the deal would be a place where no worker or resident would want to work or live. And certainly Northand wouldn’t provide the massive guarantees and their own equity they will need to provide to attract those investors and lenders. So if I have to sit in a few additional minutes of traffic for my community to receive the benefits afforded by this development then I’m more than happy to sacrifice those extra few minutes of my life on a daily basis. Because this is not just about me, it’s about all of us, including those who can’t afford to currently live here and those who live here but might not be able to soon.
Lastly, I keep hearing about how the schools can’t take any more kids. I’d welcome more kids in my son’s classroom if it means he will be surrounded by students of different ethnicities and income levels. Or even if their families just became fun new friends. When I attended Zervas, our 5th and 6th grade classes were combined with only two teachers. No aides, no specialists, etc. We had 44 kids in our one class and our classroom was the auditorium separated by a sliding wall. We only had two teachers. I had an amazing public school experience and all of my classmates ended up doing great things in this world. (Bonus points for anyone who can pick me out in the picture!)
Can Northland probably do a massive 40B on this site if this referendum doesn’t pass? As a longtime friendly 40B developer, I would think they could. But that is not the reason to vote yes for this plan. The reason to vote yes for this plan is because this is a great plan – we shouldn’t let perfection be the enemy of the great.
Jason Korb is the principal of Capstone Communities LLC where he has developed market rate, mixed income, and 100% affordable housing.