Op-Ed: Questions on Residential Moratorium
By Neil Kinnon
In the late winter of 2015, while still a City Councillor, I sponsored a paper to impose a moratorium on the building of all new multi-unit housing developments throughout the City. After four public meetings throughout the spring, including two before the Malden Planning Board in which successive papers were rejected by that body, the City Council voted to allow the Citizens to vote on a moratorium, to halt all multi-unit housing developments throughout the City that had not yet been approved or did not lie in previously approved Residential Incentive zones. It was a compromise from the first paper. During those public meetings in which the Council was asked what would be the purpose of a moratorium, a presentation was made – approved by the City Council Ordinance Committee and Council – which contained five questions outlining the objectives of a moratorium. The questions were as follows:
- What should be our population maximum?
- What should be the maximum density of housing?
- How much open space should there be per person?
- How will we fund additional police, fire, DPW, and general city services going forward?
- What about education – do the taxes generated actually pay enough for students?
In November of 2015, with a total of 6,054 ballots cast, the Citizens voted and delivered a landslide in favor of the Moratorium, 68% in favor, 20% opposed, and 12% blanks. During the same election, there were two other questions put on the ballot after the moratorium question. The first asked whether Malden should adopt the “Community Preservation Act”, which would tax each property owner an additional 1% on their real estate tax bill annually to fund Open Space Acquisition, Historical Preservation, and/or Affordable Housing. The second question – should the City acquire the Malden Hospital site. The CPA question passed with 55.6 % in favor and 35% opposed, still a large plurality, while the question regarding the Acquisition of the Malden Hospital site passed with 71% in favor and only 22% opposed, marking a huge landslide. The latter two ballot questions clearly answered one of the questions the City Council had said it was seeking an answer to, namely, “How much open space should there be per person?” The Vote on the Preservation Act, along with the Vote on the Acquisition of the Hospital site, signaled clearly that “we the citizens” wanted more open space per person, not less, and that the Malden Hospital site in particular should unquestionably be purchased by the city and not developed for housing. In fact, the Campaign for the CPA question cleverly linked it to the Moratorium and Hospital Acquisition directly with a slogan of “Vote Yes Questions 1, 2, 3.”
Shortly after the election, the City Council voted to pass the moratorium for one year. The moratorium went into effect on January 1, 2016 and was eventually extended due to delays in the study, relating both to funding issues and the length of time it took to do the study on the issue, until December 31, 2017.
At the beginning of 2016, the then City Council President Barbara Murphy assigned me to the task of leading the Ad-Hoc Moratorium Committee. The Committee’s tasks were to hire an outside independent Consultant to do a Growth Management Study, conduct citywide forums with the residents for feedback, and to conduct a survey put together with the Consultant. This survey would ask the citizens for their input to key questions with the intent to answer the five questions which we had promised would be answered and which would provide us a direction for the future of the City based upon the direct feedback from the citizens. The Growth Management Study, meanwhile, was to provide general information and an understanding of what was actually happening in our City in terms of growth in population, housing, students and its impact along with formulas on how best to ensure Malden’s financial viability going forward.
The study, the forums, and the survey, the largest ever conducted within Malden, involved the input of over 2,000 residents, fully a third who had voted in 2015, and could not have provided a more clear vision of what the citizens wanted. They demanded simply that the city’s population stop growing as the city is dense enough (86%), that multi-unit apartment complexes with more than twenty units in them stop being built (over 70%), and that multi-unit housing complexes more than three stories high outside of downtown, none exceeding six stories in the Central Business District, stop being built as well (76%). The study made it crystal clear that if we are to find our way to financial viability in the future, our sole focus must be on Commercial Development and the halting of housing development. The only housing development the majority of Citizens supported was senior housing and assisted living housing, and nowhere did anybody state it should be above six stories.
Since December, the City Council, not in its entirety, has proceeded down a path which ignores the study, the forums, the survey, and the votes of the citizens in November 2015. If you value your public safety, your children’s education, the maintenance of this city’s infrastructure, and your property values long term, bear in mind that your will, expressed in all of your feedback during the moratorium, should not and must not be ignored if any trust is to be maintained in our local government. If it is ignored it will be akin to stealing from the homeowners and putting their home equity in outside Developers’ hands.
Next week: What the Growth Management Study informed us about Malden’s current financial struggles and the path to future financial health for our city.