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More roofs over more heads

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More roofs over more heads

Newton is just under six months away from a deadline to comply with the new law that requires communities to make it easier to build multifamily homes close to transit.

Cobbling together a plan hasn't been -- and won't be -- easy in a city where housing has long been the third rail of politics.

But part of the Fuller administration’s proposed solution just received a nice page one nod from the Globe's Andrew Brinker who focuses on a part of the proposed rezoning that would allow for taller buildings in village centers and commercial areas.

“Should the rezoning overcome fledgling resident opposition and pass by the end-of-year deadline, it could serve as a model for other communities and represent a major turning point in the city’s attitude toward multifamily housing,” Brinker writes.

It’s an idea that has always made sense. Not only would it provide new housing options for those who need a place to live, but more foot traffic and customers for our local businesses.

Under the plan, building heights would max out at four-and-a-half stories in some villages and two-and-a-half stories elsewhere, while buildings that provide affordable housing could be a little taller.
Along with additional changes (mainly between Newton Centre and Newton Highlands, along Route 9, and in Waban) the rezoning would allow for the addition of more than 10,000 new apartments, exceeding the 8,330 required under the MBTA Communities law.
However, it’s super important to note that just because it would be “allowed,” it’s unlikely that anywhere that number would be built, or built anytime soon.
Also worth noting: The new rules would apply to only around 3% of Newton's total land area.

“Targeting the village centers is an idea proven to make cities more vibrant," City Councilor and Zoning & Planning Committee Chair Deb Crossley tells Brinker."Nobody’s residential neighborhood is going to suddenly start seeing apartment buildings on every corner.”

Still, Newton being Newton, even if approved by the city council this fall look for opponents to try and reject efforts to provide a roof over more peoples' heads through a ballot referendum. 

(Our other chamber communities Needham, Watertown and Wellesley also need to rezone under the MBTA Communities, but have until the end of 2024 to do so, although there's nothing in the law preventing them from following Lexington's lead and rezoning sooner.)

Deja vu all over again?

Remember late last summer when Beacon Hill was thisclose to approving a targeted tax relief package, only to pull back after discovering that an obscure state law would require a nearly $3 billion tax rebate?

Could the same thing happen again now that the state has discovered the Baker administration erroneously spent $2.5 billion in federal funds on jobless benefits that should have been covered by state money during the COVID-19 pandemic?

We shouldn't let that happen.

Massachusetts is losing workers to other states in record numbers. We need relief along the lines of those proposed by the Healey administration or the House.

That solution can’t be on the backs of businesses either. Our businesses are already covering the cost of $2.7 billion in bonds the state sold last year to cover its previously known unemployment insurance debts incurred during the pandemic.

The good news? Yesterday we learned that state tax revenues rebounded in May after falling short in April. We also learned that the Senate is expected to unveil its version of a tax relief bill in the next two weeks.

Proakis looking to hire economic development and planning directors 

City Manager George Proakis' is looking to add a position dedicated to helping nurture the city’s small businesses, a move our chamber enthusiastically supports.

Along with creating a new economic development director position focused on small business success, Proakis' first proposed budget since becoming city manager last August also adds a planning director focused on long term planning, an additional building inspector and a senior open space planner.

There’s also $200,000 for a study of Watertown Square and $50,000 to update the zoning code and plans to restructure the DPW and other city departments.
Insofar as budgets are a barometer of a leader's priorities, this first budget is an encouraging barometer of Proakis' priorities.

The Watertown City Council budget vote is scheduled for June 13.

Coming and going

  • A Chinese bakery that offers pastries, boba tea, and smoothies called Crystal Bakery has opened Newtonville, near the corner of Washington Street and Walnut Street. (All Over Newton)

Northland continues support of housing nonprofit

In late 2021, the Newton-based Northland Investment Corporation donated $1 million to HomeStart, a program that over the years has helped find permanent housing for more than 14,000 people and prevented more than 4,000 families from experiencing homelessness. 

Since then, Northland employees have also been active in raising more money annually for the nonprofit.  This February, they raised $254,850 in a spin-a-thon, the BBJ reports.
Almost everyone has had COVID

new report from the CDC suggests that nearly all Americans had some level of COVID antibodies in their system as of early last fall, according US News & World Report.

It found that 96% of people had antibodies by last fall. About 23% were from infection alone and 26% were from vaccination alone. Nearly 48% had hybrid immunity – a number that’s only expected to grow as the coronavirus continues to circulate.

Tomorrow: Regaining momentum

Finally this morning: Studies show many of the DEI positions companies created after George Floyd’s murder in 2020 have since been phased out.

And many of the statements and initiatives employers put in place at the time have faded as well.

Please join us via Zoom tomorrow (Weds) at noon for a panel discussion featuring honorees from our recent Most Influential Business Leaders of Color list who have a professional and personal expertise in the DEI space.

Among other things, we’ll ask them to suggests ways organizations can build lasting inclusion into the fabric of their company and how employers can help employees feel safe in an era where hate has run rampant.
Panelists include:

RSVP here. 

That’s Need to Know for today -- the 79th anniversary of D-Day -- unless you need to know why there is no terminal D at Logan Airport.

Be back later this week.
Greg Reibman (he, him)
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