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3 Questions For Jeff Cohen – Councillor at-Large Candidate

Jeff Cohen Answers Our Questions

Taxes, Development, and Housing

QUESTION 1 – Salems tax rate, both residential and commercial, has consistently gone up around 2% every year.  Do you feel that this “stability” best serves the city, or should we take another approach? Please be specific as to the impact on city services that your approach would bring.

Answer:

My belief is that we are too dependent on residential property taxes, hence the push to increase development and condo conversion (this will also be a component of answers to questions 2 & 3).  Although the “stability” allows businesses & homeowners to forecast costs, we need to be more creative in producing revenue for the City. 

Those who perform City services (police, DPS, fire, etc.) do the best they can with the resources they have, but we can do more, so I am not about stressing their ability further.  Rather, I know we can produce enough savings and money to increase the services the City provides residents and businesses.

Here is one example:

What saddens me is that I am the only candidate for At-Large who is taking the climate crisis as seriously as we need to, but this is not just about mitigating this emergency, but realizing the financial benefit in doing so. 

As Vice-Chair of SERC (Salem’s Sustainability, Energy & Resiliency Committee), I’m proud of the savings (~$800K annually from energy efficiencies & initiatives) making Salem more resilient & sustainable have resulted in…and we can do so much more.

When Salem installed the solar arrays on the Bentley & Witchcraft Heights schools, I was the recycling coordinator and solar coach and came up with the concept that the City could receive the same incentives homeowners & businesses do, but was discouraged by the City’s 3rd party energy broker.  I reached out to many installers and found one willing.  As a result of the projects, the Bentley School has a new roof that would have cost the City & residents 6 figures and the schools are receiving about $100K per year for 10 years in revenue.

By converting to cleaner, more efficient technologies (we’re working on zero net energy buildings), we can save lots and we can leverage properties with innovation as did with the school projects.

These are just examples of what I will propose as Councillor as we can increase our services without additional burden to tax payers, residential or commercial.

QUESTION 2 – Salem has, and is, undergoing a long-term development boom that has impacted every neighborhood in the city. Should Salem take steps to slow development?

Answer:

Many mention “smart development” and that is a great term, but here’s what I mean by smart development:

We have moved too fast with development for two reasons, all the developments approved & in process don’t have adequate inclusionary zoning and don’t meet what should be the minimum efficiency & resiliency standards.

However much development adds to the tax base, it must be part of a bigger than that fulfills our 100% clean energy resolution and makes it possible for all income levels to exist here.

A good example is the Ferris development, which received 11 variances from ZBA and the Planning Board overruled the Design Review Board.

People want to live in Salem and incorporating the right zoning and resiliency/efficiency standards will still enable developers to make enough money. 

We also need to plan appropriately for our evolving population.  The tired rules of density and parking, for example, don’t reflect the lifestyles of people today and in the future.

If elected At-Large Councillor, I will propose ordinances that will increase our required minimum standards.

QUESTION 3 – Entry level workers, lower income families, hospitality employees, and seniors find Salem to be an unaffordable place to live. How can we best plan to meet the housing needs across all demographics in Salem?

Answer:

All who work in Salem should be able to live here and those here (seniors, those with disabilities, vets, working class, etc.) should be able to stay.  The biggest issue regards our diminishing rental stock.  The only way to make sure that Salem is for all is an approach that includes as many positive mechanisms as possible.

Here are some of the concepts and ordinances I support & will propose as Councillor:

A comprehensive inclusionary zoning ordinance that is tiered with multiple levels of income and the units must be on-site.

The new ADU regulations that are far better and accomplish much more than the limited ones in place.  This will enable homeowners to stay in home and provide some needed inventory of smaller, lower rent units.

Thoughtful condo regulations as too many are being priced out of their homes and far too many being asked to vacate their tenancy so landlord can get higher rent of convert to condos.  This will also mitigate the increased gentrification happening that is adversely changing some of our neighborhoods.

Tenants rights legislation that will include longer minimum notice with potential payment.  Will request quarterly community education forums to educate people (tenants & landlords) on their rights. 

We should all be ashamed that MROD didn’t pass.  The best manifestation of democracy is when consensus is reached and all concerns are addressed that satisfy all to some degree and this happened without resolution.  That historic buildings are decaying that can be restored and used for affordable housing fits in what should be the character of our City.  We do have a housing crisis and one reason I’m running is because I will do something about it.

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