Well, my first week or so back in the city was an event filled one – not the least of which was the close race between Sefatia Romeo-Theken and Paul McGeary, as they vied to prevail as the two final mayoral candidates in November.
On September, 29, the voters went to the polls and decided it would, indeed, be a Romeo-Theken/McGeary mayoral contest on the first Tuesday in November.
The city and its people are fortunate in that both candidates have a lot of experience, and they both have demonstrated a deep commitment to, and love for this wonderful but rapidly changing city by the sea.
They may differ on some of the details on how to best help the city and its people navigate the changes that are coming, but nobody, whether you support Romeo-Theken or McGeary, should doubt the commitment both these capable candidates have to the city and its future.
That said, having just returned from working the summer tourist season in Provincetown, something that would not have been economically feasible had it not been that I rented at a reasonable rate from an old friend; I worry that, as the fishing industry continues to be regulated to near extinction, there are too many people in Gloucester who believe that waterfront related tourism in the form of high end marinas, ever more chic restaurants and bars, and luxurious accommodations of one form or another, will somehow offset the loss of the relatively good paying jobs the fishing industry and related businesses so long generated here in Fish City.
If the economic focus in relation to how best to use the waterfront in the wake of fishing’s decline is too heavily dependent on that high end tourism, Gloucester is setting the stage for another economic crisis a few years down the road from now. That crisis will revolve around the harsh reality that the people employed in those almost strictly seasonal, tourism and service industries will not be able to afford to live here any longer.
That is because as the waterfront is gentrified, the term is a bit of a cliché but I use it for lack of a better one, one can be sure the gentrification will spread out from the waterfront and up into what are still working class neighborhoods like “Portagee Hill”, the area in and around Middle Street, and all around and above Washington Street heading out toward Grant Circle.
As the gentrification spreads, already rising rents in the city will spike still higher. It is all but guaranteed, yet the wages most of the jobs in tourism, even high end tourism, pay will not be enough to compensate for the ever increasing costs of housing .
Now, I know Provincetown and Gloucester are very different communities. But they share numerous demographic traits that, when looked at holistically and historically, make it clear that Gloucester can learn some lessons from Provincetown and, hopefully, not make the same mistakes Provincetown did as high end tourism replaced the once vibrant fishing economy there. As the fishing industry declined in Provincetown, old local Portuguese fishing families sold their multifamily homes and moved away. Investors from Boston, New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco bought up those homes and transformed those once reasonably priced apartments into luxurious condominiums that are rented out by the week for two, three, even four thousand dollars during the high tourist season, only to be left vacant through the winter months – despite the fact Provincetown is experiencing a genuine housing crisis.
So acute is the housing shortage in Provincetown, people my age who have lived and worked there for years in the arts, in galleries, shops, and restaurants are leaving in droves. Even those who were fortunate enough to have bought something before prices went into the stratosphere about fifteen years ago are leaving. Why? Because their property taxes and assorted other fees have been raised to levels they can no longer afford.
The housing crisis is so severe that, increasingly, the employees in the shops, restaurants and galleries are Jamaican or Eastern European migrant workers who live four and five people to a room in bunk house style conditions for which each person pays two hundred dollars a week for the bunk – and little else.
Now, some will say such a development could never happen here in Gloucester, I beg to differ. In fact, a year ago this past summer I overheard two members of the management team at the establishment I worked at for two seasons talking about the need for the owners to start thinking about building dormitory style housing on the property because they understood that, as the economy of Gloucester changes and the city gentrifies, it is going to become ever harder for workers in the tourism and service industries to find housing here.
Gloucester, as Newburyport did twenty five years ago, is at great risk, especially in the wake of fishing’s decline, of becoming little more than a chic, coastal, bedroom community of Boston where most residents work off island for good wages; of seeing multi-family homes bought up and converted into high end condominiums, perhaps even to be rented out only in the peak summer months at exorbitant rates as has happened in Provincetown, while the jobs created on island in the tourism and service sector industries don’t pay enough to allow a single person, let alone someone trying to raise a family, to live here anymore.
People who don’t think that could really happen are kidding themselves.
That is why, as this municipal election cycle plays out, it is important for voters to find out where all the candidates stand on these all- important issues pertaining to the city, its people, and the future that awaits both.
Because the future is coming to the city, the only question to be answered is “What kind of future will it be?”
Mike Cook is a long time liberal and gay rights activist who saw the uniqueness of Gloucester from the first moment he drove over the bridge during his move from Cambridge to Cape Ann in 1991 to run NUVA’s AIDS education and services programs.