Ruthanne Fuller is the thirty-first Mayor of the City of Newton and the first woman Mayor in Newton’s history. She was sworn into office on January 1, 2018. Since then, Ruthanne has delivered for the people of Newton.
Zoning and Housing
Homes are the foundation of all communities, and a community that includes all kinds of people needs all kinds of homes. That’s true for Newton where we value diversity. Today in Newton, our diversity is at risk.
Average home prices are soaring beyond the reach of young families, the lifeblood of our city’s future. Older residents, people with disabilities, local-business and city employees, and others who want to stay in or move to Newton have too few suitable options. Our village centers, home to small businesses and restaurants, are crucial to our community’s prosperity and vibrancy. Our village centers need help to stay vital and to achieve their full potential, even as climate change and traffic congestion are forcing us to think in new ways about what, where, and how we build.
Zoning Redesign. If you watched the Planning Department’s excellent presentation last December, you’ll understand that Newton’s current zoning ordinance—the rules governing what gets built where—is a big reason for the ever-increasing size and price of our homes and the diminishing diversity of our community. To change these trends, and open doors across our city and in all 13 villages to people of all economic means, all ages, all races, and all ethnicities, we have to change the rules and build homes of all shapes and sizes, and build more homes in the right places (e.g., village centers with public transit).
This is why I am committed to Zoning Redesign. I’m particularly excited about the prospect of redesigning our village centers, and love learning about Newtonians’ visions for them. Allowing more people to live in or nearby village centers and increasing access to the opportunities and amenities they offer will strengthen their economic vitality and community potential. We’re seeing this in real time, in the heart of Newtonville. Zoning Redesign is an historic opportunity to break with the exclusionary, car-centric patterns set by prior ordinances, and lay the groundwork for a more inclusive and sustainable future for Newton. Please take some time to explore the related resources produced by our Planning Department.
Affordable Housing. Since I became Mayor, Newton has made great progress on affordable housing. For example—thanks to our Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance, our Community Preservation Program, Massachusetts Chapter 40B, and thoughtful review by our City Councilors or the Zoning Board of Appeals — the Northland, Riverdale, Dunstan East, Riverside, Golda Meir expansion, and Haywood House projects will create a total of 1,979 new homes, 492 of them for low- or moderate-income households. Other projects under consideration, including the West Newton Armory, in which every unit will be permanently affordable, will bring us even more. I look forward to finding additional opportunities like the Armory to spur Newton’s progress toward greater affordability.
Zoning Redesign is critical to boosting our affordable housing, but it won’t automatically produce homes affordable to people with very low-incomes (50% or less of the “area median income,” as defined by HUD). Because land and construction costs here are so high, these homes require some form of public subsidy (grants, loans, tax credits, etc.) and will always be a challenge. That said, we can and should do more to make it easier. I’m very interested in the idea of creating an affordable housing trust, as another mechanism for supporting affordable housing .
Tear-Downs. It’s hard to watch modest, relatively affordable homes get torn down and replaced with homes that don’t seem to fit into the neighborhood, and sell for prices beyond the reach of average families. If we want different outcomes, though, we have to change the rules (i.e., our current zoning ordinance), within reason. Simply protecting “naturally affordable” homes—controlling for tear-downs—won’t stem the rising cost of land and construction. To be truly welcoming and inclusive, and fulfill our Climate Action Plan, we need zoning that is intentional about the supply and variety of smaller homes. We have to plan for the Newton we want in the years ahead.
Zoning Redesign is our chance to reverse the trend toward ever-larger, more expensive, more energy-hungry homes, and add housing affordable to all kinds of people, and revitalize our villages, and effectively combat climate change. Let’s seize this opportunity.
Environment and Climate Change
Being the Garden City, Newton has high expectations for promoting sustainability, preserving green and open space, and protecting our environment. Through thoughtful local strategies, Newton lives those expectations and has emerged as a municipal example for cutting greenhouse gas emissions while making our city more livable.
As Mayor, I have emphasized listening to the needs of our residents on this vital matter. By listening and learning, we developed Newton’s first ever Climate Action Plan, created Newton PowerChoice, delivering the highest amount of electricity from local renewables in the Commonwealth, launched NewMo, permanently preserved Webster Woods, converted the Auburndale Community Library to fossil-fuel-free electricity, and brought bikeshare to the city.
To ensure progress forward, Newton must continue to use a robust community engagement process to develop strategies to reduce our carbon footprint, improve public health, and help lead the city towards a greener, more sustainable future. The four key strategies are using energy efficiency, conserving energy, greening our energy supply, and meeting the ongoing threat of climate change.
With the United Nations IPCC report on the unprecedented, widespread and rapid changes in our climate systems, the City of Newton will continue to take the lead on combating CO2 emissions. As Mayor, I have engaged with the community to develop strategies to reduce our carbon footprint, improve public health, and help make Newton a greener, more sustainable community.
I remember when I was campaigning to be Mayor four years ago wearing a green button that said, New Senior Center. I promised. I delivered. We’re doing the design work now. What a journey it was to decide on the site. We looked at over 150 sites, held 277 public hearings, most seriously at Newton Center, at the Albemarle Gath Pool and in Newtonville. People spoke up and weighed in. Here in Newton we have strong opinions. We figured it out together and we’re moving forward. That’s part of the process of a major undertaking like this – leadership means listening and recognizing when adjustments need to be made. During COVID, when the doors of the Senior Center closed, we reinvented fitness classes, provided meals, called every person over 60 living alone in the city, and set up a Hotline to serve those having difficulty accessing a vaccination. We established an innovative on demand, ride share program. At a very low cost, any older resident can get from their home to many parts of the city. Newton in Motion, or NewMO, is at the cutting edge. Older residents will always be a priority for me as Mayor.
I’ve been focused 24/7 since last March on the health and safety of our community. As our understanding of the virus keeps evolving, I use data and science and listen to medical experts like Drs. Rochelle Walensky and Ashish Jha to make our decisions. With the highly contagious Delta variant, we are prioritizing the health of those under 12 who can’t get vaccinated. We are getting our children back into school full time and in person, with masking, testing and excellent ventilation. And we are working with stakeholders on vaccinations. In Newton, we do our public health work thoughtfully and deliberately — we engage and we lead people to do the right thing. And when I needed to, I have imposed restrictions and more recently a city wide indoor mask mandate in public places. With frequent newsletters, I’ve kept you informed, and I will continue to. As we grieve the ones that we’ve lost, I’m so proud of the way our city has remained resilient. Newtonians have been magnificent. We have one of the highest vaccination rates in the world. As the virus evolves, I will make data driven choices to keep our community healthier and safer.
Newton’s villages make Newton walkable, neighborly, vibrant and special. Together with Newton’s Director of Economic Development, our liaison to small businesses, I’ve worked closely with our businesses, and especially during the past 20 months when our restaurants and shops suffered as the economy shut down. · We distributed $610,000 in grants to 50 brick and mortar businesses to help them through the toughest months. · We sped up road, sidewalk and bicycling improvements in Newtonville and West Newton Square, planted trees, installed new lights and benches while people were home to minimize the disruption from construction. · We created Newton Al Fresco – a wonderful collaboration between our Newton restaurants and City Hall to expedite outdoor dining across Newton to allow people to eat out safely. We added tables for outdoor dining, provided free painted barriers along restaurant seating in parking spaces, hung solar twinkle lights, and brought art and music to our village centers to make them more inviting and festive with help from Newton Community Pride. We are taking steps now so we can continue outdoor dining after State legislation expires next spring. · We started Newton Hires as finding people to fill jobs is so difficult. Partnering with MassHires, we are assisting Newton businesses attract employees with cash incentives. · We partnered with local entrepreneur Allison Yee and secured state funds to launch Project Pop-Up to bring innovative start-ups, most of which are women and minority owned, to vacant storefronts in our villages. We extended Project Pop-Up through 2021 and look forward to many finding permanent homes here. · We are using a MassWorks grant to help make Pettee Square an even more vibrant village center in Upper Falls. · We closed Bram Way in Newtonville to enhance a vibrant new community gathering spot among new restaurants, stores and housing. · We waived parking fees throughout the pandemic. · We are working to update our zoning to allow smaller, lower rent stores with housing above so small local businesses can open in village centers. · We got MassDOT and the MBTA to commit to redesigning all 3 commuter rail stations so Newton will finally have accessible, frequent service. · We attracted life sciences businesses to Newton, a robust industry sector. As Mayor, I kept Newton open for business during the pandemic and I’ll make sure our villages and businesses are vibrant in the years ahead.
The past year and a half has been unimaginably difficult. To our students, teachers and staff, parents and guardians — you were amazing. As NPS was building the plane while flying it, I did everything under my direct control to help our students. I invested $4.5 million dollars in ventilation upgrades, provided City funding so that NPS had the infrastructure for remote learning and every student had a chromebook. I funded testing, and got vaccines in the arms of teachers and students From day one, I was in touch with the finest medical experts including Drs. Rochelle Walensky and Ashish Jha, and our parents and guardians were reassured when we created a formal advisory group that worked closely with our health commissioner Now, as Dr. Jha has said, we have everything in place to bring our students back safely to school I know how important it is for our children to be back in person, with their friends, to help heal the social and emotional hurt and address unfinished learning The NPS mission has never seemed more relevant: academic excellence, educational equity, and support for social and emotional health