Lynn’s Mayoral Contenders Clash Over Housing, Growth
This fall, a mayoral race in the city of Lynn will be a referendum over the city’s future, and affordable housing has emerged as a key issue in debates between the two final candidates.
But like other former mill cities across Massachusetts, Lynn also struggles with aging public infrastructure, a difficult city budget, and increasing development pressure from Boston.
Mayor Tom McGee, who has been a persistent advocate for electrifying and lowering fares on Lynn’s commuter rail line, has decided not to seek re-election after just one term in office. Three-term School Committee member Jared Nicholson and City Council President Darren Cyr, who won Lynn’s September preliminary election with 3,220 and 2,593 votes respectively, are now competing to take his place.
As a School Committee member, Nicholson is particularly passionate about improving Lynn’s growing public school system and plans to make it his top priority if elected mayor.
“We need new schools,” Nicholson said. “About half of our schools are 100 or more years old, and we have experienced a lot of growth in our student population. Schools are in unacceptable condition, but we also need more space and more classrooms.”
In addition to school improvements, Nicholson says that his other top priorities include the rising cost of housing in Lynn and improving city infrastructure.
Housing costs in Lynn have risen 6.7 percent in the last year alone, making it harder for individuals and families to move into the community.
“It’s harder than ever to buy a new home, and there’s a lot we can do as a community to lower the cost of housing and build development that is smart and inclusive,” said Nicholson.
While Nicholson would not definitively answer if he plans to change zoning laws to allow for more housing construction, he is a strong proponent of the Metropolitan Area Planning Council’s Housing Lynn plan, which sets goals and strategies to create affordable housing for the city.
His opponent Darren Cyr, whose team declined to comment for this article by citing a “busy campaigning schedule,” feels differently.
In May, Cyr criticized the Housing Lynn committee’s work with complaints that they did not consult enough members of the City Council or the School Department.
“I, as Council president, requested that all relevant municipal department head stakeholders — including the superintendent of schools, city solicitor and chief financial officer — review the plan and submit written findings and recommendations to the full City Council,” wrote Cyr in a May op-ed in the Lynn Daily Item. “No viable housing production plan can realistically be considered without an in-depth analysis into the effect the plan would have on our aging and overcrowded public-school system.”
Cyr also argued that Lynn should not make room for new families to live in the city before it addresses the issues of overcrowding in its school system.
“Only through improved educational opportunities will Lynn break its cycle of poverty and dependency upon social services. To that end, a careful, thorough review process where all voices are heard is required,” wrote Cyr.
In a subsequent rebuttal, Nicholson and a number of other local leaders involved in the Housing Lynn plan called Cyr’s column “misguided both on the factual record concerning the Housing Lynn process and on the appropriate policy response to this important issue.”
“The Housing Lynn team met with department heads and municipal staff, also in February of 2020. They, like the City Council, Planning Board and general public, were invited to attend in-person and digital events, complete surveys, and provide comment on draft material, including the first iteration of the Housing Lynn plan,” they wrote.
They also noted that the Housing Lynn plan did, in fact, include an in-depth analysis of school enrollment and its relationship to housing (see pages 71-75).
“We need smart growth,” Nicholson told StreetsblogMASS. “We need to plan for development that will benefit the city… I served on the steering committee of (the Housing Lynn) plan, and I think it’s absolutely the right next step. It has a lot of specific recommendations for how we can plan for inclusive growth.”
Nicholson also wants to continue building on the work that Mayor McGee has done with MassDOT’s Complete Streets program.
“Making the city more walkable is a top priority when we think about infrastructure improvements,” he said. “We have a lot of senior housing downtown and we hear a lot of issues of folks wanting to get around and not feeling safe because of the speed of cars going around and a lack of improvements to the sidewalks. Walkability is helpful for those older folks, it’s helpful for community business, and it activates neighborhoods. That has been a priority of the current administration that I am excited to build on.”
Nicholson expressed support for the proposed electrification of the Newburyport/Rockport commuter rail line, which makes stops in Lynn, calling the move “imperative for both the community and the region.”
He does not yet have concrete plans to help Lynn meet Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker’s 2050 Net Zero emissions goals, but if elected he plans to take the city through a “comprehensive future planning process” that will “absolutely be keeping those goals in mind as we set a plan for the city around development and opportunities for redevelopment.”
“I think we’re lucky to be in a community that has some great momentum on transportation issues and some great advocates that care deeply about making good jobs and more opportunities accessible to so many people,” said Nicholson. “We have some great momentum that I am excited to build on.”
Claire Wallace is a graduate student studying in the School of Journalism at Northeastern University. She enjoys writing freelance pieces regarding politics, lifestyle, travel, and the environment.