Dear Mayor Warren:
The League of Women Voters of Newton (LWVN) strongly urges you to reconsider your decision by reinstating the Engine 6 proposal and permitting the process to proceed with an extended period for public comment.
The LWVN supports adequate housing to promote self-sufficiency for a diverse population of low-income residents. We recommend that low-income residences be spread throughout the city rather than concentrated in a few neighborhoods, and that there be a preference for Newton residents. The Engine 6 proposal meets these requirements and should once again be brought up for public discussion.
Public understanding and participation in decision-making is a core belief of the League. LWVN is concerned that closing down discussion before the public comment period was over did not encourage more understanding and participation from the community. We recommend treating the 30-day public comment period as a minimum, extending this period to encourage all residents to review the facts, and letting MetroWest/Pine Street Inn make revisions to address Newton’s concerns.
In particular, our review has led us to the following conclusions:
1. The community impacted by projects such as Engine 6 is the entire city of Newton, not just the immediate neighborhood. Distributing low-income and special needs housing throughout the city adds diversity to villages, as well as opportunities for all Newton residents to work together to address socioeconomic issues and stereotyping.
2. The standard notification process for affordable housing projects requesting CDBG funding is one of the sources of the present controversy. The existing communication process of contacting the local paper and posting meeting information in City Hall may no longer be enough. We suggest that the Planning and Development Board, which has significant jurisdiction in the area of CDBG funding, reconsider current notification policy and entertain changes that would inform abutters and community members more effectively. However, attention to a notification process should not preclude action on pending/available proposals that can benefit the entire city.
3. While it is not required, an early community meeting is usually held before any low-income housing project is approved by the Planning and Development Board. A community meeting in May where residents could have expressed concerns and asked questions would have led to changes and improvements in the proposal before the official 30-day public comment period. Without this meeting, many Waban residents felt blindsided by elements of the project. While opposition to the proposal was vocalized loudly and quickly, those in support of the Engine 6 proposal needed more time to adequately prepare their statements.
4. The MetroWest/Pine Street Inn group was not fully prepared for the comments from the community. Stereotyping and fear regarding the potential Engine 6 residents took hold before the petitioners were able to present accurate information. MetroWest/Pine Street Inn made changes in response to the expressed concerns, but they were not able to present them when the process was cut short.
A proposal that encounters such intense opposition, much of it based on emotion and incorrect assumptions, needs strong leadership. We firmly support an open and honest conversation about low-income housing, and consider this process the community equivalent of a “teachable moment,” where neighborhood fears are expressed, questions responded to, and information from similar residences in other communities used to show how a proposal such as Engine 6 may enhance our community. We will be sharing our position with the community via the Newton TAB.
An extended comment period is a better solution than cutting the process short. We ask you to reinstate the Engine 6 proposal.
President, League of Women Voters of Newton
cc: Emily Costello, Editor of the Newton TAB