BRATTLEBORO — Jackson Stein hasn’t missed a Select Board meeting in the last year.
“I think that something that we didn’t see enough of in the Select Board is a representative listening to the people in the community and respecting the ways that they’re asking for help,” Stein said, “and I think it’s the job of local government to serve the constituents.”
Stein is one of six candidates running for two one-year terms on the board in the March 2 election. Other candidates include incumbent Daniel Quipp, Evan Chadwick, Kurt Daims, Jessica Callahan Gelter and Rikki Risatti. Gary Stroud dropped out of the race, citing a medical diagnosis.
Stein said a town with “really stratified” socioeconomic levels like Brattleboro has voices that aren’t heard enough. Seeing only 50 to 60 of the same attendees at each board meeting, the candidate wants to serve those who don’t get enough representation.
Stein is part of the Tenants Union of Brattleboro, which brought forward the security deposit proposal the board approved 3-2 in December. The board amended a housing ordinance to limit what landlords can initially charge tenants to one month’s rent and a security deposit not to exceed the same amount.
The proposal came from the tenants union “just listening to the needs” of community members who were watching their rent prices rise, Stein said. The group also saw a similar ordinance passed in Burlington as a model for making housing slightly more affordable, at least with upfront costs.
“I don’t think we quite knew what to expect going into it,” Stein said, adding that the group was excited to see the board approve a proposal from community members to explore police reform before the ordinance was amended. “Watching that go through the Select Board made that avenue for change a lot more accessible.”
By serving on the board, Stein wants to have the opportunity “to even more directly support those proposals and make sure we’re doing right by the town.”
The plan is to keep pushing for ways to help the “tenant class” and those without housing. The victory inspired Stein and the tenants union to continue their efforts.
“It’s no secret Brattleboro has a huge housing shortage and prices are going up,” Stein said. “As a town that likes to brand itself as full of artists and a strong community, we lose that if our artists and other people don’t have places to live.”
Acknowledging that the new regulation doesn’t solve all the housing problems in Brattleboro, Stein called it “a really strong first step to speaking about tenants’ rights.”
“And it’s ultimately a really small change and there will be more to come,” Stein said.
Stein said about half of the people in town rent their homes and none of them came out against the proposal, and some landlords supported the proposal although others did not. The group believes that by having the ordinance, it will only improve access to housing.
The tenants union is currently informing people about illegal clauses in leases.
“We found in town many people whose leases we looked at had clauses landlords are not allowed to have in there,” Stein said. “Finding a way to regulate leases better is huge. Also, with the eviction moratorium coming to an end at some point, I think these issues are more important than ever.”
Ultimately, Stein would like to see rent control but said that would need to go through the Legislature.
Stein called the recently completed town-commission report on community safety “beautiful” because of the way it brings attention to marginalized voices in the community.
“I think that’s sort of how we have to conduct local government going forward,” said Stein, who fully supports all of the report’s recommendations and would like to see the proposed timeline happen faster. “I think that it’s a study that should continue to be ongoing and the changes that we make now shouldn’t be set in stone because the needs of the community will always be changing.”
Stein said they have an agenda but want to listen to the community. (Stein uses they/them pronouns.)
At 22, Stein feels the younger generation is constantly being told to get more involved in local politics.
“I think the events of the past year have really made that happen in a way that almost never does,” Stein said. “I think we have a lot to say and I think we’ve figured out how to maybe be heard.”
Pointing to high unemployment and financial pressures due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Stein said people are becoming more active in the community.
“It’s a huge tragedy but if we can use it as a way to make life better for more and more people then it’s an opportunity we have to take,” Stein said.
While Stein supports retail sales of cannabis in town, it’s not a big issue for the candidate. Stein sees it as a way to help the economy and bring new businesses to town.
“It seems to be working in Massachusetts,” Stein said.
Stein’s experience with the tenants union showed “how the cogs work, so to speak.”
“It’s been a really incredible opportunity to engage with the town and listen to the needs of the town ... folks tend to know what they need but don’t know how to ask for it,” Stein said, adding that the ability to parse that out is the most important thing a politician can have.