Northampton begins ordinance review

  • Northampton City Hall, 2019.

Staff Writer
Published: 11/1/2020 7:54:23 PM

NORTHAMPTON — The last time the city reviewed its ordinances, in 2015, the focus was on technical changes. This time, a city committee is also looking at racial equity.

The Ordinance Review Committee, which started meeting in September, will be examining city ordinances for technical updates and “looking at various ordinances that could have or could cause inequalities or have a negative impact on marginalized communities or Black, Indigenous or other people of color,” said John Thorpe, chair of the committee and the Ward 4 City Councilor. 

Per the city charter, ordinances are reviewed every five years by a special committee that creates a report with suggested changes, and a City Council resolution passed in September triggered the equity component of the review. “We have an obligation to advance racial equity by undoing the inequities found in the law, and to proactively pass ordinances and make budget decisions that address inequity,” the resolution reads. 

Housing-related ordinances will be a focus for the committee, said vice chair Megan Paik. Ordinances related to policing also affect marginalized groups, but Paik does not anticipate focusing on them because there is already a city commission dedicated to the issue, the recently formed Policing Review Commission.

“We anticipate talking about and looking at subjects like housing and like zoning,” Thorpe said. He pointed to a report, commissioned by the city and written by the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, “Unlocking Opportunity: An Assessment of Barriers to Fair Housing in Northampton.”

The report identified issues impacting people of color and other marginalized groups and can be a “launching pad” for reviewing ordinances, Thorpe said.

One issue the report found is that there are very few homes with more than three bedrooms. The limited number of multi-bedroom homes disproportionately affects people of color, across racial groups. Asian and Latino people are more likely to live in larger Northampton households with five or more people, the report said. In addition, home prices and rent have risen, the report pointed out.

“One of the most important issues of our time is access to affordable housing,” Thorpe wrote in a followup email to the Gazette. “We will take a hard look at our zoning ordinance[s] to see what we might recommend to make affordable housing more available. For example, encouraging removal of barriers to building more multifamily housing.”

Potential technical ordinance updates include deleting references to the name of the Public Works Commission, a body that no longer exists. As technical changes like that were the focus in the 2015 review, “We don’t really have a lot of precedent for what we’re doing,” Paik said.

The group plans to submit a report to the City Council and Mayor’s office by the end of the year, though they may request an extension, according to Paik. In addition to Thorpe and Paik, Ward 6 City Councilor Marianne LaBarge, Ward 3 City Councilor Jim Nash, and resident Jeff Napolitano are on the commission. 

Information about how to join the committee's Zoom meetings can be found on the city’s website

Greta Jochem can be reached at gjochem@gazettenet.com.




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