On Housing – thoughts from the Clam’s token politician on the eve of the Fuller vote

Affordable housing.

 

Those two words seem to scare, anger, and confuse most people. Dunno why, though. It’s something every community needs, and precious few have enough of it. Affordable housing also isn’t really so much a specific government program (because lord knows we’re living in an era where, ever since one of our Grand Old political parties picked up a prion disease and started to see their brain dissolve into pudding, convincing themselves that Governmenting Is Bad) as it is a development goal to make sure that communities can have people of all sorts living there. The people who eat in restaurants AND the people who work there. The supermarket shoppers AND the supermarket workers. The Gym members and the gym workers.

 

Everyone needs to live reasonably close to their jobs. The people who sell you your coffee, deliver your newspaper, mow your yard, and help you live your upper middle class lifestyle don’t come from another dimension through a wormhole each day, returning to their tenement universe at night. Nope. They live in your town. If they get priced out of living there they’ll leave. And then the businesses you depend on won’t have employees. There’s more people who need affordable housing, too. People juggling school and work. Single parents. People in entry-level jobs.

She doesn’t live in a pod. She lives in an apartment. And you tip her badly, you cheap bastard.

People in government, too. I don’t know about Gloucester, but do you have any idea what a veteran parking enforcement agent (meter maid) makes? In Salem, after nearly 20 years, ours make about $44k. That’s also what an entry-level firefighter makes here. Make it to Lieutenant? We pay you $67k.

 

A new police patrolman isn’t paid as badly – they make about $54k. But that still doesn’t go too far in a world where rents for a 3-bedroom apartment go for between $1500 (one single listing on Realtor.com when I searched Gloucester today) and $2500 per month.

 

Your friendly local GOP will tell you that affordable apartments are all set aside for “illegals” or “them”, or “welfare queens”.

Saint Ronald The Spender, after fighting the Welfare War

Affordable housing is for you. And a community that lacks it starts to die, from the inside out.

 

There’s a fiction out there that 30% of your gross income should be the guideline for what you pay in housing costs. So let’s look at that number, shall we?

 

Assume, for a moment, that you’re a firefighter that’s moved up a couple of grades. And you make $60k per year. Pretty good coin, right? So that means you should be able to afford $20k per year in rent or in mortgage+property taxes. That equals about $1660 per month in housing expenses.

You know, these guys? All the feels.

First of all, looking at that Gloucester market (and I don’t know what you pay your firefighters, but it’s not going to be a lot more than Salem – if at all), when I ran the listing tonight there was ONE apartment rental of 3 or more bedrooms at that price. One. Now I’m sure there’s apartments that are on the market by word of mouth, or on Craigslist, or other channels. I’m not pretending that a single web search untapped an entire real estate market for me.

 

But that’s pretty slim pickings, however you look at it. Now assume the taxes paid on that salary (around $15k or so), and you’re looking at, after everything, perhaps $25k per year for that firefighter. Out of that he’s going to have to pay for a car, food, gas, clothing, and a whole life. If he’s married and has a child, that’s going to help pay for childraising as well. Sure, his wife probably works too – and out of those combined salaries you now have (probably) 2 cars, childcare, and a zillion other increased costs.

 

And there are people out there looking at this financial statement and saying “I WISH I HAD IT THIS GOOD!!!”

 

Think about that.

 

Buying a house? That’s even tougher. For a personal example, my wife and I earned, between us, about $100k back in 1993. We bought a single-family house in Salem that spring for $185k.

 

One Hundred Eighty-Five. Thousand. Dollars.

And it looked like this. Really.

Today, it’s worth almost $600k on the open market. That’s a rough tripling in value. Did our salaries triple? Nope. Simply put, if we were in the market for a home today, we couldn’t easily buy our own home that we already have. Real estate prices have not followed the same inflationary curve that most consumer goods follow. If they did, our home would have a value around maybe $300k. High, but within reach. Instead, the $300k home needs a lot of work, may lack things like off-street parking, and is probably in a worse neighborhood. As crazy as rental prices are, home ownership is even tougher. Mortgages are relatively cheap nowadays, but a $320k mortgage will cost you (before taxes and, if you need it, PMI) about $1700 per month if you have amazing credit. Add your property taxes (mine are about $7200 per year – another $600 per month – so a home assessed for less might be half that, or $300 per month) and there’s $2000 per month or $24k per year to stay on the housing treadmill. Not including all the things you have to pay for when you’re a homeowner (repairs and the like).

 

It’s like a Red Queen scenario. You have to run faster and faster just to stay in the same place.

 

So part of the dilemma for Gloucester, Salem, and all sorts of other communities is how to serve these people. We need housing for our workforces. Only in a supply-side fever dream do we actually want a world where there’s a whole subservient underclass who can be shipped in and out of town daily.

Affordable housing, amirite?

Years ago, Massachusetts realized this. And they created the “40(b)” zoning law. To over-simplify horribly, it says this: communities should have at least 10% of their housing stock in the “affordable” category (and I won’t get into the exact way it’s measured – you can look it up). At last measurement, Salem was at about 14%, and Gloucester below 10%. What 40b does is give cities an incentive to place and approve projects with an affordable component – if that number is below 10%, a developer can buy a property, designate a certain portion of the project to be “affordable” by deed, and then bypass all sorts of local approvals and zoning restrictions that would otherwise apply.

 

In Salem, we’re above 10%. Our redevelopment is mostly concentrated around our old brownfields at this point, because we’ve filled just about all the rest of this city. And our boards have full powers over most of it.

 

You guys aren’t. The Fuller School is out there. So are a whole bunch of other open spaces in town. Just saying. Building market-rate housing will help affordability some, by increasing supply. But to really make a difference, you need to build the real deal. As a community, you can get serious about solving this yourselves, or you can try to raise up the bridges. But only one of Gloucester’s bridges is a drawbridge. The other one is fixed-span – and even though it’s under construction all the time, you can’t close it. So other people are likely to solve it for you. There’s money to be made in housing, after all.

Where the hell is our Clam?

“Hey, who turned out the lights? Anyone here? Knock knock…”

So, you may be wondering where Your Faithful Clam has gone. Truth is, we’re all pretty much still here but Real Life has gotten in the way of our trademark mix of snark, righteous indignation, and beautiful uses of pop culture references. So for the moment, they’ve left me – junior editor and Actual Elected Official Josh – with the keys.

Where are they right now? Well, Jim is in the middle of a massive client project that his small marketing company is managing. I saw him once, furtively wandering into a pho joint in Beverly (because Gloucester needs a good Vietnamese restaurant too, amirite). He looked haunted, as if he was on the verge of being a mammoth success and earning enough cheddar on this job to buy a brand new Subaru with ALL THE THINGS. He’s also kinda burned out from the damned Democratic primaries and is joining me on Team Cthulhu now.

KT moved (twice) and took on a new full-time job in the insurance biz. She now lives close enough to Official Clam Dirndl Wearer and Beer Goddess Brooke Welty that they’re quickly going from good friends to “it’s really maybe a little creepy at this point”. She’s working through post-divorce life and has an awesome boyfriend. She’s sick of the primaries too.

As for the rest of the Clamtributors? Adam headed off to Greenland in the hopes of experiencing an actual winter before climate change turns New England into Morocco. Len went to work for me in real life and had his creativity stifled. Anna is moving up to one of the identical cake decorating war shows, seeing what spunk and attitude can do to make a MB sheet cake spectacular. Jeremy was unable to be elected President in Massachusetts and has resumed warping the minds of America’s youth. And Steven has begun a retail business to see if every product can be sold with a 17% markup. Because we really like that arbitrary number here at The Clam, and it works so well for taxes.

Me? I’m just busy trying to keep the lights on here for the moment. We do have some terrific content coming up in the coming weeks, just not as fast as we’d all like to. Greatness takes time, y’all.

Hot Take on Gloucester Issues by Josh Turiel

Occasionally we look to FOC (friend of Clam) Josh Turiel for “Over the Bridge” perspective. That he gives it from Salem, a place demonstrably crazier than Gloucester, just makes it better. But Josh is sane. Sorta. Anyway, here’s his hot take on some of our goings on.

As the Clam’s Official Actual Elected Politician (City Councillor in Salem, MA, and current Council President), I am often asked to comment and lend the Clam insights on issues local and national. Having gone through the election process several times and worked for a number of other candidates for office, I can bring some of that perspective to events going on, and candidates for office.

The first thing I’ll opine on for the benefit of the Gloucester audience is this. When I heard about the Soones Court plan, my first instinct was to say “this is a joke, right?” I mean, I live in Salem. We have plenty of controversial projects here in this community, mostly projects that are brownfield re-use where people are justifiably worried about density and traffic issues, and possible remediation risks.

With all that given, nobody thus far has proposed building a SUBDIVISION ON THE FREAKING OCEAN. What homes in Salem we do have balanced on the ocean are in places that at least are somewhat sheltered in our harbor, and aren’t directly exposed to the Atlantic. If there was actual land to build on perhaps this would be different, but fortunately it looks like you guys were able to shoot that bit of idiocy down. Good on you.

Because the old saying “they aren’t making real estate anymore”? It applies doubly to the seawall. That’s going away a little bit farther, even.

I’ve also been asked a lot about the election process and the presidential campaign. Well, I’m arguably the closest thing to a conservative in Clammedia Tower (as I may have been the only non-Sanders supporter on the vast payroll). That said, even with that I’m still a Democrat. Registered and everything. Not one of those “unenrolled” that dominate Massachusetts and much of the country.

So I understand, a little bit, what the complicated rules are that are used to select a Presidential nominee. The Democrats and Republicans have slightly different rules. The Democrats once nominated Jimmy Carter, and he won the Presidency. This made a lot of Democrats very unhappy, so they changed the rules to make it a lot tougher to nominate Jimmy Carter ever again. Basically, they created a big class of free agent delegates that amount to about 20% of the total delegates to national convention. They’re called “Superdelegates”, because they have the power to totally ignore the electorate and vote for whomever they damn well please.

And those “Superdelegates” are the Professional Political Class of the Democratic party. They’re elected officials (Congressmen, Senators, Governors, other state constitutional officers) and key party leaders (senior party directors and officials). The idea is that they’ll generally back whomever the preferred candidate is of the party mainstream and make sure that the rabble doesn’t win.

In reality, even though they pledge to the party favorite, often early, if that candidate goes south in a hurry (like, for instance, happened to Clinton in 2008), they fold like a cheap suit and switch to whomever has the momentum.

The problem for those Feeling the Bern, though, is that many of the key primaries after this point are not “Open” primaries, in which anyone can vote. And Sanders’ support has come very much from unenrolled voters and voters who come from outside that party structure. And the Democratic party so far hasn’t wavered nearly as much as they normally do. Between proportional delegate awarding and closed primaries, I go on record for Clam purposes as saying that Sanders is likely toast by the beginning of April. Sorry.

I loves me some Bernie, I just don’t see him winning a Democratic Party nomination. Because unlike the Republicans, the Democrats know how to stack the deck properly.

The Republicans have a different system. They gather the most offensive people they can generate and let them slug it out

uninteligble yelling

while following the strategy of appealing to the farthest right segment of their base they can – because that’s a proven way of getting the nomination. After doing so, the nominee then tries to tack as close to the center as they can in the hopes of getting normal Americans to forget the promises they made and vote for them.

In every election since 1992 (except for 2004), that’s failed, but it gets people nominated. The other custom in the Republican party is that the runner-up for the nomination is usually the front-runner for the next time out.

This year, that failed because of the orange-tinted sentient wig of spite that detonated onto the electorate this year with a splat, namely He, Trump. After eight years of unbelievably polarized rhetoric painting a utterly milquetoast black man as a Deadly Muslim Kenyan Socialist who WANTS TO TAKE YOUR GUNS (and whose signature accomplishment has been to make everyone buy health insurance) many disaffected members of the Republican base were ready to thrust their right arms in the air and pledge support to a vaguely authoritarian reality TV star.

Donald Trump supporter Birgitt Peterson of Yorkville, Ill., argues with protesters outside the UIC Pavilion after the cancelled rally for the Republican presidential candidate in Chicago on Friday, March 11, 2016. (E. Jason Wambsgans/Chicago Tribune/TNS via Getty Images)

Donald Trump supporter Birgitt Peterson of Yorkville, Ill., argues with protesters outside the UIC Pavilion after the cancelled rally for the Republican presidential candidate in Chicago on Friday, March 11, 2016. (E. Jason Wambsgans/Chicago Tribune/TNS via Getty Images)

Since the opponents that have survived against him so far are reduced to a Canadian religious zealot who likes to pull wings off flies and is considered the most hated man in Washington, a youthful helium balloon from Florida, and a vaguely polite, friendly right-wing patron of the Reformed Church of the Balanced Budget, the Republicans are now hoping that they can spread disorder and chaos to the point where they go into their July convention with no nominee.

And then they would have to try and bring in a Great White Hope to save the party. The likeliest person to return in that scenario would be Willard (Mitt) Romney – you hated him in 2012, but much like Bullwinkle, “This time for sure!”. The other option considered by GOP elders was digging up the corpse of Ronald Reagan, but have you seen Reagan’s actual positions? Even dead, he’s not conservative enough for this bunch. Outside of the whole Supply-Side economics horsecrap Reagan’s pretty much left of John Kasich. And he made deals with Democrats that settled for half a loaf All. The. Time.

Ultimately, we think the GOP will splinter into two or three different parties. Maybe this year, maybe not for another cycle or so. They’re getting close. But after this election, the Cape Ann GOP will have to decide whether to just officially re-dub themselves the Cape Ann Tea Party or not. I’m thinking they rebrand. But this year, they’ll be lined up solidly behind He, Trump, instead of whining about how Ted Cruz just really isn’t conservative enough for Cape Ann.

Anyhow, there is more to this battle that will come later, and the Clam will, in our inimitable fashion, weigh in on it.

Back in Cape Ann, the affordable housing project I wrote about last fall? Why in sweet heaven is this not done yet? It’s a rehab of a downtown property that will bring people living in your downtown. Trust me. This happened in Salem. It works out well for you in the end. There will be more traffic, at least a little bit more. That’s cool, you also get people living there who will shop, eat, and walk the downtown – making it look busier and more successful and in turn drawing out still more people to Gloucester’s newly cooler and hipper downtown. Yes, these are “affordable” units. It still works. Really.

There’s plenty more to weigh in on over the next few months and Your Faithful Clam will bring it all to you, complete with occasional insight. This is our first Presidential campaign as a active mollusk and we hope to help the region bumble through it as best we can. Think of it as a warmup for the local elections that we will again cover next year – and that ALL OF YOU SHOULD VOTE IN FOR CHRISSAKES.

Because Gloucester, Volume 2

We’re back with a second helping of the best of our “Because Gloucester…” facebook page. Thanks to all the folks who have contributed their amazing Gloucester sightings with us. Here’s some of our beautiful city’s exploits:

Just one stair. The rest are fine.

Just one stair. The rest are fine.

– Man wobbling down the sidewalk on Sayward St. on his bicycle. Why was he wobbling? Riding one handed while holding a 12-pack of beer under his arm.

– Some young drunk guy, drives up your wooded driveway, gets out and takes a whiz.

– Two friendly older ladies, cruising down pleasant street in their hover-round scooters, yelling greetings from the street into the windows of neighborhood businesses as they buzz down the street. Because Gloucester.

– Mother to her adult son while shopping in Market Basket: “Don’t be like your fatha!”

– This snowman:

snowman

 

– Guy on a bike flying along at approximately 5 mph (down hill) wearing a heavy winter coat smoking the obligatory cigarette when what must have been one of his support vehicles pulled up along side him stopping traffic, when the guy in the car asked (mind you I was 4 feet away)
“Dude you got any more of those perks?”
“I don’t know man I kinda need those for my back.”
“Dude I got cash.”
At that point both men realizing I had been there the whole time looked at me as if I had totally interrupted what was a very private meeting. Then the guy in the car gave me a dirty look and they moved on.

– on this lovely Gtown morn my sons and i drove down Friend st we saw a man getting his workout out in at 10 am riding his bicycle with a can of mikes hard lemonade in 1 hand( with a piece of paper wrapped around it to hide the label), and a cigarette in the other. Must be prepping up for the TOUR DE O.U.I

 

– Overhead, one woman to another: “I shaved my legs today, I hadn’t shaved since August… I think I lost 5 pounds!!!”

– Someone took the Little Tikes toddler picnic table I left on our curb and left a half empty tall can of Mountain Dew exactly in its place.

 

 

 

 

 

 

freedeadplant

 

 

– Lobster tail shell in the middle of Rogers Street. Because Gloucester.

– I am in Market Basket, someone just yelled, “See what happens when you’re sober!?” I am in aisle 19. They were around aisle 15.

– Guy on his phone sitting on the patio at Cape Ann Brewery, “Yeah, hi…I’m up in Rockport right now…” Ummmm, not so much, buddy.

– A ten year old walking to school dressed exactly like the Gortons fisherman.

wat

 

– Your Sunday morning includes the neighbors hitting your house with their boat, and you don’t live on the water

– A few of your son’s 9 year old friends are over and none of them notice the refrigerator in the living room.

– Someone brought their bunny to the bar. “You guys are from Gloucester and you’ve never seen a bunny at a bar before?”

– You order pizza from your favorite mom&pop Italian shop in town (insert name here). It’s cold out so you use the heated passenger seat in your 10+ yo Volvo to make sure that gorgeous pie is piping hot when you get home.

When taking your dog on a quick walk threw the graveyard down the street and you notice this provocative tree

When taking your dog on a quick walk threw the graveyard down the street and you notice this provocative tree

 

…Because Gloucester.

A few years ago, I started saying “…because Gloucester.” to explain to my out of town friends the intricacies and straight-out crazy that took place here.

What I didn’t expect was that it would catch on with the locals.

Fellow Clamtributor Jeremy McKeen took it further: “At the Clam’s first annual gathering at Easter Point Lit house on August 2nd, ‘…because Gloucester.’ became a real-life call to arms on Facebook. The “...because Gloucester.”group has grown to 300 members since, and awaits your lifetime membership on the Facebook. As all things pure and good go, this group will probably jump the shark and become a corporate campaign to move powerful Hollywood types to our weird little fishtown soon enough, but until then, keep posting! Oh, and hashtags are now officially ironic, so we don’t even use them at all. That’s how cool we are. Oh, wait, being cool is in? We’re no longer cool then. We’re something else. Because the Clam. The following are, in our snarky opinion, the “best” of what collectively we write with sentiment, nostalgia, affection, and giant personal offense to local situations and repeated patterns of townie shenanigans and characteristics of our unique ocean hamlet. After each post, listen carefully for a voice saying ‘Because Gloucester.’ in your ear:”

bcuzglo

–  A woman hitchhiking in a pink bikini and towel in front of Sullivan Tire.

–  Your neighbor, who you are cat sitting for, leaves his house unlocked for 2 weeks without worry.

– You’re out for a walk with your husband and spot a perfectly good sofa on the side of the road. You take a quick photo and post it to facebook. Your great friend asks where it is exactly because it is starting to rain. He would like said sofa but is worried that it might be yucky because it is getting wet…. Later friend has a new sofa… the free giver covered it with a tarp.

– An Irish guy from Cambridge and his Jewish/German/Irish wife move into a downtown neighborhood dominated by the purest of Gloucester Sicilian families. Recipe for isolation. Then, a funny thing. Knitted sweaters and hats for the babies. Garden vegetables across the back fence. Shared lawnmowers and weed-wackers. Portuguese sweet bread on feast days left on the steps, no questions asked.

– July 4th in Lanesville – it’s pouring rain and we heard a loud noise outside getting closer, so we run to the corner to see 30+ people in the pouring rain playing homemade instruments and noisemakers, drinks in hand, all in bathing suits, throwing candy, and being lead by a guy smoking a cigarette and driving a tractor slowly down the street.

– You put out the old, ripped up and dog stained couch on the sidewalk the night before trash day. Some assweasel steals your bulk item sticker. No matter because an hour later the couch is gone.

– Someone reports your bees to animal control and the officer comes by to see them and says “I love that you have bees.” The bees then swarm repeatedly while you are on vacation but the harbormaster, who is also a bee keeper, comes and takes them to a new home.

– Old dude shows up at your door asking for your wife. She’s at the quarry swimming with the kids. Well, he’s got way too many raspberries and wants to know if she wants to come pick them. He lives roughly 4 or so blocks away. Before he leaves he gives detailed instructions on how to properly freeze them. There are that many raspberries. Because Gloucester.

– A shiny SUV with Florida plates pulls up next to me during an afternoon jaunt. From the passenger window, a well accessorized woman asks with a southern drawl “excuse me mam, can you tell me how to get to the crows nest?”

– When walking downtown you have a constant fear a seagull could use you for target practice.

– Your kids hold a “toy sale” in front of the house and a middle-aged guy drives by, leaning out his car window, barking at them.

– When you loose the hot dog you just bought at the concession stand at GHB to the Sea Gull that just swooped down and flew off with it.

– 2 PM. Driving up Mt. Pleasant Ave. past the cemetery, you see a tawny dog trotting casually down the other side of the street with no owner, no leash, a happy smile on its face. You realize a minute too late that it’s no dog but a coyote, turn back to take a picture. Fat chance. It’s way gone.

– Top five things tourists ask for 1. Bathrooms 2. Lobsters 3. Lobster rolls 4. Lobster ties 5. Captain hats

– When you sit down to eat your ice cream at Long Beach Dairy and realize the guy 2 chairs down is Adam Sandler and his kids.

– After finding a spot in the now-full Railroad Ave Shaws lot you hear a tin whistle. You turn to see that the man playing it is also carrying a ukulele.

– Throwing your trash out on a Sunday morning you find in your shared alley space a collection of items but not limited to : a 1/2 drank can of Budwiser, a bag of ceiling tiles, a brooks brothers button down shirt (that seems to be stained with koolaid) a bag with a scratch pad and #2 pencils and a bottle of Jim Beam.

– Bathtub drain clogged with sand and a cooked hermit crab found in the dryer, because summer in Gloucester.

– Neighbor calls because someone called her to say they saw your kid riding his bike in the middle of East Main Street. Lesson learned, even when moms not watching, someone is.

– Over heard out my window on East Main,”Is this Gloucester?” Because Gloucester.

– You won’t go into your garage after dark because you refuse to cross paths with the rats that come up from the marsh.

– You watch a woman whom you’d guess to be in her early 80s, very spry and dressed to the nines (heels and pearls included), park her saab convertible and walk into the Crow’s Nest.

– You see a guy walking barefoot down an east Gloucester sidewalk in (one assumes) nothing but a bright red towel at 5:30 in the morning. An hour later he’s still going. Made it all the way to the building center.

– A while ago we were pulling onto Eastern Avenue in our family car when an elderly man waved me down and crossed the street to get into my car, thinking I was one of his relatives. We talked a bit, him thinking I was an old local kid or somebody’s nephew, and even though I wasn’t the one he was waiting for, I drove him to Shaw’s like he gets driven every day, I’m assuming.

– A group of teenagers are drinking on the curb on your street on a weekday afternoon. One of them has their entire face painted like the Italian Flag. And it’s not even Fiesta.

– Giant jacked up 4 door pickup truck stopped on main street. Passenger side wheels 2 feet onto the sidewalk, driver side wheels straddling the crosswalk in the street. Undercarriage completely hovering over the handicapped ramp to the xwalk.

– Because living in Gloucester for 24 years taught me how to use the “F” word 26 different ways in polite company.

– If anyone can draw three sea gulls fighting over a loaf of garlic bread, that just happened on my street.

– Shell-shock! That jump you do in your car when a gull drops his clamshell lunch remainder on the hood of your car from high in the sky!

– A police officer knocks on my grandmothers door one afternoon and says he’s gotten several reports of an intoxicated man stuck in a tree so he asks her if there’s been anyone intoxicated in the neighborhood that day to which she replies “there is someone intoxicated up here everyday officer.”

– A couple of guys are tanning their bellies in front of the St Peter’s Club at noon on a Wednesday.

Awesome, right? Jeremy’s been hard at work on the ”…because Gloucester.” facebook page. Share your stories. They’re probably pretty fuckin’ weird.