Boston’s District 9, which includes the neighborhoods of Brighton and Allston, hosted its fourth City Council debate forum Monday evening. Candidates Craig Cashman and Liz Breadon spent the night debating issues that affect both district residents and Boston as a whole, ranging from the current housing crisis to the need to invest in public transportation.
Monday’s forum was the final debate of the 2019 election season, as voters are set to decide their new city councillors during Nov. 5’s general elections. District 9’s race looks to be one of the more competitive races this year, as front runner Cashman won only 89 more votes than Breadon in September’s preliminary elections.
Cashman won just over 25 percent of the vote while 24 percent of voters chose Breadon during the preliminary elections.
Boston’s affordable housing crisis was among the most debated issues of the night, dominating much of the discussion. Each candidate proposed their own policies for combating the problem.
Along with expanding the inclusionary development program and working with developers to bring more affordable housing within their developments, Cashman proposed a community housing fund derived from developer’s community benefits packages.
“It is the one thing that we can do as a community to make sure we are building affordable housing,” Cashman said. “When we talk about parcels in our neighborhood that are underutilized we can actually build, as the city has done in other communities, fully affordable housing.”
Breadon said Cashman’s plan contained a major flaw: there is not enough affordable land to build on, as land prices were so expensive they were “extortionate.”
Instead, Breadon proposed encouraging universities to provide more housing to students and expanding the Inclusionary Development Program, which encourages developers to include affordable units within their buildings.
Additionally, Breadon said the city should encourage homeownership through efforts such as down payment assistance programs.
“We have to use every tool in the box to make sure that we increase the availability of affordable housing in the neighborhood,” Breadon said. “We have been pushed aside for so long and so many of the new developments, we have thousands and thousands of new developments in the neighborhood and very little of it is affordable for the people that actually live here.”
Candidates also debated how best to improve accessibility to public transportation and increase the number of transportation options available to residents.
Cashman said while public transit is mostly out of the purview of a city councillor, the city should exert greater control over the bus system as he believes it is “the thing we have the most control over.”
Cashman proposed restricting some streets to allow only busses during peak hours. He also suggested utilizing technology that would allow buses to move through red lights quicker and pushed to revive District 9’s representation on the MBTA Oversight Board.
Breadon discussed the inequalities of the public transit system, proposing a massive investment in public transport.
“Unless we really address this issue of improving our mass transit system, we are in a very serious situation, not only in relation to the carbon emissions or climate change, but also a drag on our economy,” Breadon said. “Workers will sooner or later say ‘this place is too expensive I can’t afford to live here and the public mass transport sucks. I’ll go somewhere else.’”
Mark Ciommo has occupied the District 9’s city council seat for 12 years. This year, Ciommo is not seeking reelection, meaning that this will be the first race without an incumbent in over a decade.
Supporters from both sides attended the debate, drawn by the candidates for different reasons.
Kelly McGrath, a 49-year-old Brighton resident, said she supports Cashman because he is a long time member of the community and has a lot of experience working as a district director under Michael Moran, a Massachusetts state representative.
“He has a lot of knowledge and experience and a solid resume of caring and taking care of the community,” McGrath said. “He ran youth hockey with his family and let a lot of kids take part in sports that couldn’t afford it.”
DB Reiff, a 67-year-old Brighton resident, said Breadon’s policies on development and the environment align with her own, but she mostly admires Breadon’s ability to make change.
“I feel like Allston Brighton is at a tipping point with traffic and development and I want someone who can get things done,” Reiff said.
Ed Perlmutter, a 58-year-old from Brighton, said he was glad to see new faces running for the district seat.
“I feel like I have not been too well represented for the past 12 years,” Perlmutter said, “because I got the sense that our city councilor was somewhat absent and I really never heard what he was doing.”