The Sound’s 2015 Portsmouth City Council Voter’s Guide: Rebecca Perkins

Portsmouth Voters Guide
Rebecca Perkins

Rebecca Elizabeth Perkins
Occupation: Lawyer at Enel Green Power North America
Years living in Portsmouth: 3
Prior public service experience: Peace Corps volunteer, Senegal, West Africa (2004-2006); intern, Counsel to Speaker of the House, New Hampshire Legislature, 2007; Founding Member, Natik and 603 Initiative; board member, Workforce Housing Coalition; housing commissioner, Portsmouth Housing Authority

How often do you walk into downtown or use public transportation? What can the city do to encourage more pedestrian traffic and public transit use?
I live on Langdon Street, just off of Islington, and at least three days a week I walk downtown for meetings, run along the waterfront, or take my dog for a walk through the city center. Much of my experience with the city is as a pedestrian — but I have also been coming home from work, late to a meeting, and trying to find a parking space downtown!

The city can take be proactive by taking steps and making improvements that encourage residents and visitors to use alternative transportation modes, including pedestrian, bike, and public transit. I believe that many of our other problems can be addressed by this. First: our residents want it! People used to be able to walk places, and we have seen the consequences of spending so much time in our cars. Building more sidewalks, throughout the whole city, could really assist with this. There are very few places in the city that are not, ultimately, walking distance from somewhere else interesting in our city — which is not only downtown.

Encouraging use of different types of transportation also has the potential to alleviate the city’s parking challenges. We need to explore innovative ways to reduce congestion downtown as part of a long-term solution and expand our “destination areas.” There are multiple community centers starting to develop in Portsmouth, and I want to encourage that.

I don’t use a lot of public transit, just because of where I live, but I have in the past. Last time I lived in Portsmouth, I worked in Boston, and I took the MBTA out of Newburyport into North Station to work. Right now, I commute to Andover, so I explored being able to ride the C&J route to New York City and get off in Tewksbury. I think that people will take public transportation when it is reliable, comfortable, clean, and comes frequently. There is plenty of data that says that if a form of public transit doesn’t come at least every 10 minutes, then it will not recruit the ridership that it could. When they did the initial studies for C&J, it showed that there would barely be enough ridership for the bus lines — now look at it! You can’t even park over there any more (which is why their $3 valet service is also great!).

How would you address growth and development throughout Portsmouth?
I believe that by making the process of building housing less expensive, we can provide more housing that is affordable to the average renter or buyer. There are things we can’t change — land is expensive in Portsmouth, and demand is extremely high. But, there are things we can affect, and I hope to do that as a city councilor.

Portsmouth has succeeded in many ways in recent decades. Unfortunately, the creation of affordable housing is not one of them. Housing is considered affordable if you spend 30 percent or less, including utilities and other fees, like condo or HOA fees, of your income on it. Workforce housing is housing that is affordable to those making 60-100 percent of the median income. In Portsmouth, the median family income is approximately $65,000. This means the average take-home income, figuring even a (low) 25 percent total tax rate, is approximately $48,500. To be affordable on this income, the monthly housing budget should not exceed $1200 per month. I don’t think there are many households in Portsmouth that get to live within this definition of affordable.

This is the main issue I am running on — as a former board member at the Workforce Housing Coalition, and a housing commissioner here in Portsmouth, I have experience working with towns and cities to bring the cost of building housing down by deregulating zoning.

What can the city do to restore public confidence in the police department and the police commission?
I think that in this case, the system worked. There was some improper behavior, which was discovered and addressed. Perhaps there should have been some actions taken more quickly, but I think our citizen volunteers acted under advice of friends, colleagues, and counsel, and we need to accept that a solution was implemented.

How can Portsmouth encourage the development of more affordable and workforce housing?
I believe that housing is critical to who will live in and be a part of our city, especially retaining young professionals. Since 2009, I’ve been working with New Hampshire towns and cities to bring the costs of building housing down. I wrote my master’s thesis on zoning ordinances, served on the board of the Workforce Housing Coalition of the Greater Seacoast, and am currently a housing commissioner for the Portsmouth Housing Authority. I believe my experience can add to the conversation Portsmouth is currently having about its built environment.

As the initial cost of a first-time mortgage or rental continues to rise, we lose some of the next generation of Portsmouth residents. As prices go up, there are fewer and fewer young people, public employees, artists, first-time homeowners, young families, seniors on fixed income and others who cannot afford to begin or even maintain their life in Portsmouth. So many people come to Portsmouth with intent to stay for life, but many don’t know whether their income level will allow them to stay, build their lives here, and invest in the community.

While some may see this as simply a product of market trends, others, including myself, believe that it is something we must take action on in order to keep the variety of ages, breadth of income levels, range of employment, and diversity of culture that makes Portsmouth so great. The action we take does not need to result in an over-regulated development environment. In fact, I would propose the opposite: that we streamline changes that make building more housing easier and less expensive.

An increase in housing supply to match the rising demand will reduce prices. However prices will fall only on those types of housing that are created. From my perspective, Portsmouth needs more studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments, condos, as well as starter homes for young families hoping to build their lives in this great city.

What role should the council have in working with the Prescott Park Arts Festival to address residents’ complaints about noise?
Protect it! Cultural amenities define the character of a community; Portsmouth is no exception. Our culture has been the lifeblood of our success. Being able to live in a town where we can walk downtown to watch a movie in the park and outdoors in the summer are the kinds of experiences we all live for; they are what we remember about our lives. We in Portsmouth have amazing things such as The Music Hall, Seacoast Rep, new bike lanes, Prescott Park and its events, the Urban Forestry Center, and of course, Strawbery Banke. These spaces are incredible social, cultural, and economic drivers, and we must protect them for the future of Portsmouth

A long-term agreement for the festival sounds like a great place to start. I am a lawyer and I work out long-term agreements for a living. The process of negotiating and drafting a document together can sometimes be a great process by which people talk frequently and find compromises. As the stage