Local Government and Politics, News

Lynn City Council candidates debate housing, development

Candidates for City Council debated at the Lynn Museum Wednesday night. (Olivia Falcigno)

LYNN — In a heavily-attended forum Wednesday night that focused on housing, jobs and the future of the downtown, City Council candidates were all in favor of creating more affordable housing, and against tax breaks for developers. 

Participating in the final candidates’ forum of the election season, hosted by New Lynn Coalition, an organization made up of community, faith and labor organizations, were: Ward 4 Councilor Richard Colucci, Ward 4 challenger Natasha Megie-Maddrey, Ward 5 challenger Marven Hyppolite, Ward 6 Councilor Fred Hogan, Ward 6 challenger Cinda Danh, at-large Councilors Brian LaPierre and Hong Net, and at-large challengers Jose M. Encarnacion and Lennin Ernesto Pena. 

Only at-large and candidates for wards 4, 5, and 6 were invited to participate. At-large Councilors Buzzy Barton and Brian Field, at-large challenger Joel Hyppolite and Ward 5 Councilor Dianna Chakoutis did not attend. 

The tone of the forum, held at Lynn Museum and attended by more than 100 people, was established right away with speakers sharing stories about others being pushed out of Lynn due to rising rents and describing two distinct examples of what they felt was the difference between good and bad development in the city. 

Speakers cited the $90 million downtown luxury apartment development on Munroe Street, which has no affordable units and a $2.5 million tax break, as a bad example. 

What was seen as an example of good development in the city was the $31 million, Gateway North project on Washington Street, which includes 71 mixed-income units and was “built 100 percent union.” 

Although the event was billed as an election forum, it was unusual in that questions to the City Council candidates were few and far between over two hours, and took a backseat to the hosting organization’s push for more affordable housing and message that development in the city does not represent a majority of its residents.

When questions were posed, candidates tended to largely agree with each other on many issues. 

All were in favor of the city adopting an inclusionary zoning ordinance that requires 20 percent affordable housing for new developments over eight units, and were against tax breaks for developers. 

Candidates spoke about a similar vision for providing housing for all Lynners, citing the need to create housing that’s affordable for all, with LaPierre and Net speaking about the need for more senior housing and Hyppolite calling for more transparency in development. 

“What we really need is equitable, economic development,” said Danh, who spoke about her struggles with housing insecurity.

“We need to stop pushing people out of Lynn,” said Hogan.

Another topic that sparked lots of discussion was about how to stop the drug problem at schools. 

Pena, a recovering addict, said the opioid crisis is an important topic for him. He said there’s a lack of information for parents and families about where they can get help. 

Candidates spoke of the need for more education for students and families on the harmful effects of drugs. 

Hyppolite said one of the major problems is kids are dealing with trauma and don’t have anyone to talk to. There should be more opportunity for community discussion to give those kids a resource, he said. 

The question also sparked the first disagreement between political opponents. 

Colucci said he felt there should be harsher punishments for drug dealers, saying if the dealers are eliminated, then the problem will go away. 

During the forum, he called for a mandatory imprisonment of 25 years for drug dealers, but later clarified to The Item that he got emotional because he has lost a lot of friends to overdoses, and meant that he wanted stronger punishments. Parents are left distressed when their kids die from overdoses, he said.

His opponent, Megie-Maddrey, pounced on Colucci’s answer, saying incarcerating drug dealers for 25 years is not the solution and that she was against the school-to-prison pipeline system. Instead, she called for more services and support for students in the schools.

Hogan, a founding member of the Stop the Violence Lynn initiative, said the organization works to get the message to youth that violence and drugs are “not cool.” 

The election is Tuesday, Nov. 5. 

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