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Housing Issues Loom Over Honan-Meehan Rep Race

17th Suffolk District candidate Jordan Meehan is the first primary challenger Housing Chairman Kevin Honan has had since he first ran for the Allston-Brighton seat in 1986. (Courtesy and SHNS File)
17th Suffolk District candidate Jordan Meehan is the first primary challenger Housing Chairman Kevin Honan has had since he first ran for the Allston-Brighton seat in 1986. (Courtesy and SHNS File)

Jordan Meehan joked that it seemed like he picked the best year to take a first crack at running for state political office as the pandemic has shifted campaigning tactics from in-person meet and greets to phone banks and digital strategies.

"I think we have adjusted to the circumstances better than most since the district is so heavily comprised of apartment buildings that we would have had to phone bank and text bank under normal circumstances," he said. "There is, you know, some degree of loss that everyone is facing here, but better to be safe and adhere to public health guidelines."

The 17th Suffolk primary race between Meehan and Housing Committee Co-Chairman Rep. Kevin Honan stands out as a battle between the power and experience of the incumbent versus the ability of a younger progressive rival to secure a win in a district where top issues include affordable housing and tenant protections.

Honan hasn't had a primary challenger on the ballot since he first ran in 1986 for the Allston-Brighton seat and is slated to become the most senior member of the 160-person House should he win reelection.

Two years after Nika Elugardo and Jon Santiago defeated veteran Reps. Jeff Sanchez and Byron Rushing, only two House Democrats in the 18 Suffolk County House districts face opposition on Sept. 1. In addition to the race between Honan and Meehan, Chelsea's Damali Vidot of Chelsea is running against Rep. Dan Ryan of Charlestown.

After an extended period of being untested at election time — Honan edged Caeol Wolfe in his 1986 primary — Honan has turned up his fundraising this year.

Honan outspent and outraised Meehan from Jan. 1 until July 31, according to campaign finance reports. The incumbent's campaign spent nearly $57,000 and raised $92,000 with a total of $93,000 cash on hand as of July 31. Meehan raised about $41,000 and spent just over $27,000 in the same period.

Meehan, Boston-born and raised in Malden, studied political science at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. After college, he worked on Attorney General Maura Healey's 2014 campaign and entered law school at Suffolk University shortly after. He has served as the chair of the Massachusetts Sierra Club's political committee and most recently worked with the Massachusetts Commission on LGBTQ Youth.

Meehan, who is campaigning in a district with a large number of young residents, said he is not daunted by Honan's 33 years of political experience on Beacon Hill.

"Rep. Honan apparently just hasn't been active in meeting new people where they are for a very long time," Meehan told the News Service. "A lot of folks we talked to were distinctly unfamiliar as to who he is or what he's done, and are excited to have a choice on the ballots."

The Housing Chairman and 1981 Boston College graduate said his experience is a draw to voters who can rely on him to know the various social service agencies in the community and utilize the relationships and friendships he has built in the Legislature to advance legislation.

"My experience is very valuable. It matters. I've been through two major budget deficits. I understand how to navigate these difficult times and protect the social safety net," he said. "Due to my years of service, we pride ourselves on our constituent work, helping families and people who are in need."

Honan, who was born and raised in Allston-Brighton, coordinated summer youth employment programs in Boston and worked at ABCD educating low-income and elderly residents on weatherization and fuel assistance programs, prior to his long career as a full-time legislator.

Voters have already received vote-by-mail applications for the Sept. 1 primary and for the first time can take advantage of a one week in-person early voting period starting on Aug. 22. And while Boston recently changed the polling locations of 20 precincts, none of the affected locations were in the Allston-Brighton wards.

Roughly one-third of the Allston-Brighton neighborhood is made up of 20-24 year-olds and the neighborhood has a total population of 74,997, according to a fact sheet from Boston's Department of Neighborhood Development. The total population of the neighborhood grew by just 7.7% from 2000 to 2010 and the median household income is $53,362, according to the fact sheet.

In an interview with the News Service, Honan said his priorities if elected to another term include continuing to work for affordable housing both in his district and across the state. He said he is focused on utilizing public land from housing authorities to create accessible residences.

The Boston Democrat, who has chaired the Housing Committee since 2003, also said he wants to continue to push for West Station, a planned MBTA station at the former Beacon Yard Park in Allston, and increased funding for Residential Assistance for Families in Transition, a program that provides short-term financial assistance to low-income families experiencing homelessness.

"So we want to continue to work and bring to the table technical expertise within the housing authorities or from community development corporations, or preservation developers and other developers in Massachusetts of affordable housing," Honan said.

Meehan also listed affordable housing as a top priority of his, saying rent in the district has skyrocketed over the past few years "with no real effort at stabilization." Similarly, rent control and tenant protections, including his 10-point tenant bill of rights, rank high in his legislative to-do list.

He said he has heard many stories from the Allston-Brighton district about abusive and neglectful landlords and management companies.

"We have an affordable housing waitlist in this neighborhood of 17,000 people. And that and the skyrocketing cost of rent that didn't happen by accident, that all happened in the absence of policy to ward that off and to fix these problems."

The Legislature in recent years has struggled to agree on zoning reforms to boost housing production around Massachusetts but a breakthrough policy change could emerge from ongoing House-Senate talks over a jobs bill measure that would reduce the threshold for local changes from two thirds to majority support.

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