Doris Ann Sweet on housing, activism and run for Ward 4 City Council seat

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Newton Beacon is reaching out to all candidates for City Council for interviews and profile stories. The Newton Beacon is independent and nonpartisan, and coverage does not mean endorsement.

Doris Ann Sweet has lived in Newton for more for than four decades and worked as a college librarian for 45 years—at Columbia University, Boston University Assumption College, Simmons University and Harvard—before retiring.

That career had her helping students, staff and visitors navigate complex systems to find exactly what they were looking for. Sometimes, that included figuring out what they were looking for in the first place.

“People were doing all kinds of work. Sometimes it was doctoral work. Sometimes it was groups of undergrads doing a project together,” Sweet reflected. “That’s what made the job so fun. You never knew what was coming next, in the way of questions. It was just interesting to be able to know what they needed and be able to help them out a bit.”

Sweet sees that experience as a good segway to post-retirement service to the city, and she’s running for a seat representing Ward 4 on the Newton City Council.

Starting the Engine

In the spring of 2013, there was a proposal to convert Newton’s Engine 6 firehouse in Waban into several studio apartments for the homeless as well as one unit for a supervisor.

But the plan was met with backlash, and that June, then-Mayor Setti Warren opted to essentially delay the project indefinitely (effectively scrapping it) by not releasing the funds for it.

Sweet, along with others who had pushed for the firehouse project, then launched Engine 6, a Newton affordable housing and homeless housing advocacy group.

Engine 6 has spent the past decade meeting with local officials to push for affordable housing options with new developments that come to the city. For example, they may check to make sure a project has three-bedroom units so families can live in them. Or they may look into ways a property can potentially be used for affordable housing.

Sweet is still active with the group, but she’s taken a step back from her leadership role to run for office.

She had never run for office before. But when City Councilor Chris Markiewicz decided not to run for another term, Sweet said people started calling her and suggesting she go for it. And she did.

A ‘yes’ on VCOD

Sweet and her husband, Doug, moved to Newton in 1978, and she said they were able to find a house they could reasonably afford.

“We didn’t even intend or expect to buy a house,” she mused. “We thought we would rent an apartment. But we couldn’t find an apartment.”

That was then, and this is now. And affordable housing is hard to find. If elected, Sweet wants to focus on a range of issues and that includes, of course, housing.

Sweet supports the plan to re-zone the city’s village centers to allow more density. The Village Center Overlay District proposal has been in the works for several years, and a new state law—the MBTA Communities Act, which mandates cities and towns with MBTA stops up-zone the neighborhoods around them by Dec. 31 of this year—raises the stakes, as communities that fail to comply will be open to lawsuits and a loss of certain state grants.

For Sweet, supporting the VCOD isn’t just about law compliance. It’s about housing justice, and she believes that more supply of housing in Newton will cut demand and prices in the long run. And she said the VCOD would help village center shops thrive.

“Here in Auburndale, those small businesses need more people coming by,” Sweet said. “They need more customers, and if there are more people within walkable distance, that’s going to revitalize the village center areas.”

The VCOD is a zoning initiative, and the city wouldn’t be building any units. The VCOD would rewrite the rules for private property owners going forward.

Traffic, teachers and trails

Opponents of the VCOD cite traffic and parking concerns, but Sweet said she rarely has trouble finding a parking space in Auburndale and that putting more housing near public transportation can mitigate village center traffic.

Sweet said that having people who work in Newton commuting into and out of the city every day because they can’t afford to live in Newton causes traffic and is bad for the environment.

“Teachers need to be able to live in the community where they teach,” Sweet said.

And speaking of schools, Sweet said she supports Newton teachers in their fight for more money.

“I’m really a teacher supporter. They are the ones who really make the schools something that we can be proud of,” Sweet said. “And we really need to appreciate them, in my humble opinion.”

Sweet—who has two adult kids and three grandchildren—said she also wants to protect Newton’s green spaces for everyone’s families to enjoy.

“I’m a big lover of woodsy trails, and they need to be taken care,” Sweet said.

Newton’s election will be Nov. 7, with early voting starting on Oct. 28.