LYNN TODAY: Top Takeaways from Lynn’s Existing Conditions
By Aaron Clausen
It has been a little over a year since the City through the Planning Department kicked off the planning and public engagement process to create a comprehensive plan for the City, called Vision Lynn. Since that time we have heard from over a thousand residents, business owners, and workers about what Lynners want for the future of their city. To complement the rich input we’ve been gathering from the community, we also worked with our consulting firm, Utile, to conduct a deep dive quantitative analysis of the City. The result is Lynn Today, a 200+ page slide deck that both summarizes research conducted in previous planning efforts and utilizes newer data to explore important topics and themes.
There is plenty to consider in the Lynn Today report, but there are three points that have particularly stuck with me as we’ve continued the planning process:
Lynn is a global city. With one out of three Lynners born in a foreign country, we have the pleasure of hosting a variety of different cultures and backgrounds in our community. Most of our foreign-born residents (71%) originally hailed from Latin America, contributing to the fact that nearly half (44%) of all residents identify as Latino. When we talk about international immigration, it’s typical to imagine someone newly arriving to U.S. soil; it’s worth noting that the majority of foreign-born Lynners (70%) have been here since before 2010, over ten years.
This richness of diversity–both in terms of nationality, as well as race and ethnicity–is one of Lynn’s core strengths. Lynn youth will grow up having been exposed to many different cultures and languages, which will better prepare them for our increasingly diverse and interconnected world. Business districts like Union Street can provide cuisine or showcase art from nearly every continent in a short walk, inviting visitors and residents to come and try something new. The dynamism that defines multicultural communities, when allowed to thrive, is a cornerstone to the creation of vibrant, exciting and innovative cities. And, of course, Lynners see the importance of diversity too: 40% of survey respondents identified “diversity” as one of the things they love most about the city.
Lynn needs balanced growth. Lynn Today takes a chapter to explore fiscal sustainability, which is particularly important as we consider the costs of what Lynners have identified as priorities: improved infrastructure, more modern school facilities, and better-maintained natural resources and amenities. The $450M budget Lynn has to tackle these worthwhile priorities is raised partially through property taxes (34%), with most of the remainder coming from state aid (61%). Looking closely at property taxes, we see 90% of Lynn’s total tax value comes from residential property, which is a higher share than any of our comparison communities (Brockton, Chelsea, Revere, Salem, and Somerville). This ratio puts a significant burden on our residential property owners. We need to encourage new commercial development to achieve a better, more balanced, tax base.
Property taxes are the primary source of funds that are generated and controlled by City policy, however the City is legally constrained in how it raises property taxes. A healthy fiscal outlook requires new growth (in other words, property taxes from new development) each year, but a stronger ratio of commercial or industrial tax value in the long term will create a stronger, more resilient, tax base. This shouldn’t be strip-mall style retail–which takes up a lot of land and contributes comparatively little to the City’s bottom line–but instead major employers in advanced manufacturing, research and development, and or other businesses in growing industries, like life sciences and clean energy. The forthcoming arrival of Soliyarn is a testament that this is not just a pipe dream. Mixed-use development that effectively brings these types of employers together, along with housing and retail in a balanced way, can provide a stronger tax base delivering needed services while addressing other objectives like better access to housing and jobs.
Housing remains one of the biggest challenges for Lynners. Our community feedback has been loud and clear: housing affordability is one of the biggest issues facing Lynn at the moment. Lynn Today spends a chapter on this topic to highlight our existing mix of housing, concerns about the age and quality of our housing stock, the housing cost burden a majority of our community faces, and the mismatch between the housing that is being added and the housing that appears to be needed. The data and community feedback are clearly aligned.
What stood out to me, however, was in the chapters outside of housing. Lynners are working at about the same rate as other communities in Massachusetts, but tend to be making relatively low incomes, with 44% of our households making less than $50,000 a year. This may be in part because three of the five biggest employment sectors for Lynners are in relatively low wage industries: healthcare and social assistance, retail trade, and accommodation and food service. As we move forward, we should not only be exercising every tool to support housing affordability, but also be working to hone our workforce development ecosystem to ensure Lynn workers are ready for well paying jobs in growing, high-wage industries. Our workforce development plan, currently underway, will help us understand how to do that.
Of course, these are just three of many interesting themes that have emerged in our year-long conversation about the future of Lynn. If you are interested in reviewing the data and drawing your own key takeaways, I invite you to visit our project page at www.lynnincommon.com/vision-lynn and download the Lynn Today analysis yourself.
I also encourage you to participate in the Vision Lynn planning process, which we hope to wrap up this Spring. Our Vision Lynn Open House will be at the Senior Center on Saturday, February 4 from 10:30am to 12:30pm; we will be discussing how to use the built environment of Lynn to make our shared community vision a reality (English, Spanish, Portuguese, and Khmer interpretation available).
If you can’t make that, we’ll be at The Brickyard Collaborative on Tuesday, February 7 from 1-3pm for office hours to answer any questions you have on the plan (English and Spanish interpretation available).
Thank you for your contribution!
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