By Beth Treffeisen
A filled gymnasium at 74 Joy St. set the scene for the first and only 8th District City Councilor Candidates Forum, in Beacon Hill on the evening of Tuesday, Oct. 24.
Two candidates are vying for the Boston City Councilor District 8 seat on Nov. 7, including the incumbent Josh Zakim, and the first-time office seeker Kristen Mobilia. Together they took to the stage with moderator Robert Whitney, from the Beacon Hill Civic Association, to answer questions from residents and audience members.
The forum was presented in collaboration with the Beacon Hill Civic Association, the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay and the West End Civic Association. The goal was to increase voter participation and educate residents within the neighborhoods.
Each candidate got up to four minutes for opening and closing statements and three minutes, with a one-minute rebuttal for each question. Questions were received from residents before the forum, and from audience members towards the end of the forum.
Lasting an hour and a half, the two candidates answered questions on topics ranging from trash, environmental impacts, to police body cameras, but one question summed up the evening, “Do you guys disagree on anything?”
Whitney agreed with the question but stated that each candidate did have different ideas on how they would respond to solving each problem.
“We do agree on a lot of things,” said Mobilia. “Perhaps one thing I would do differently would be the vote on Boston Planning and Development Agency’s (BPDA) urban renewal extension that should be voted against because we need more checks and balances. We need to look into how this power of the BPDA has changed over time.”
The BPDA was granted urban renewal powers in planned areas including parts of the West End, North Station area and Government Center. The extension allows the BPDA to maintain these absolute powers, which are used for planning and economic development purposes for another six years until April 2022.
Mobilia said she wants to see the power of development pass directly to the people in the city and harness more engagement of residents.
“We need to start standing up and sharing our voice,” said Mobilia.
Zakim responded by pointing out that he was one of three councilors who voted against the urban renewal extension of the BPDA.
“I’ve stood up to the mayor and other council members numerous times,” said Zakim, pointing towards the Olympic bid that failed. “Sometimes I have to respond by standing up and making sure our neighborhood is heard. They’re not going to roll over us.”
One major question was on affordable housing.
Mobilia said as both a renter and owner, she has seen rental rates rise in Boston. As a member of the Fenway Community Development Corporation (CDC) she supports keeping and making more affordable housing in the neighborhoods.
“A lot of affordable housing is expiring,” said Mobilia. “We need to make sure that the federal and state governments along with outside funding can work together to retain and keep these affordable units.”
In addition, Mobilia said more student housing needs to be made in order to give some of the rentals back to the general public.
Zakim said that federal government is cutting back more than ever before on creating affordable housing, and it is up to the city to be creative in retaining and creating more housing.
Zakim pointed to the increase of affordable units and funding that is part of the Inclusionary Development Policy (IDP) when new housing units are created and the Community Preservation Act that will create $20 million in revenue for more affordable housing.
In addition, Zakim will be holding a hearing to discuss co-ops to get more residents to be able to afford to own in the city.
“That’s what we have to do,” said Zakim. “There is no size fits all, so we have to get creative.”
Another hot topic was getting a public K-8 to the downtown neighborhoods. Many students either have to travel elsewhere or go to a private school. Candidates both agreed that it is definitely worth fighting for.
“We need to find a location for a downtown public school,” said Zakim. “I’ve been working with BuildBPS and the library to discuss how a larger development of a building could provide a school as part of that, but I can’t announce anything yet tonight.”
Other topics in the evening touched on historic preservation, the traffic concerns surrounding the proposed private club at 29 Commonwealth Ave., and garnering more engagement from the community.
This race did not have a preliminary election but will be up for a vote along with the Mayoral race on Nov. 7.