n 2003, I was looking to buy my first home, and Melrose was close to where I worked. A Realtor drove me to the second-floor unit of a two family home in Melrose and I immediately fell in love with the wide staircase, the wainscoting in the living room, and the little reading nook. Yes, the kitchen was straight out of 1950, complete with mustard-yellow tiles and a dishwasher that had to be rolled across the floor and attached to the sink faucet in order to run. I didn’t give a hoot. I offered list price + $1, and two months later the home was mine!
I was teaching in Malden at the time and I could bike to work. Sometimes, one of the pizza places would be open on Sundays. Whittemore Hardware had any home improvement item I could imagine, as well as a nice dog to pet while shopping. I did notice that most of the people here were white, which seemed odd in contrast to Malden, which was incredibly diverse.
I didn’t get to know my neighbors because, well, I worked a lot and I am not really the kind of gal to knock on doors and introduce myself around town. But it was OK. Life was good! I liked Melrose just fine and got into a groove. I met my husband five years later. He eventually moved in, we got married and had a baby, and everything changed.
I took a leave from work and played outside with my daughter a lot. I met my neighbors, who are all fascinating and kind people. I expanded my garden and joined the Melrose Gardeners Facebook group. I joined the Family Room on Green Street and met dozens of other parents and kiddos, and became friendly with some of them. I spent time at the (four!) YMCAs around us. I started seeing more people of color, and hearing many languages being spoken, as I did my errands downtown. I liked that Melrose was drawing in a more diverse population. Then some of my friends moved here, and I found out three old classmates from school lived here, too. Melrose was growing, and it was exciting!
When it came time for my daughter to attend Kindergarten, I truly absorbed how popular Melrose had become. My daughter’s small school had to add a whole class to accommodate the new kiddos, and the flow of new families hasn’t stopped. With new residents come additional needs- more trash pickup, more cars on the road and in the parking lots, and of course, more resources for our kids’ schools.
Starting mid-fall of 2018, we began hearing about a possible tax override, which would allow our city to collect more than the 2.5% cap on property taxes (about $5 million additional). The mayor wrote a series of pieces for our local newspaper explaining the idea; she pitched it so we could continue to fund our schools, library, senior programs, public works projects, and so on. Six months of grassroots activism followed. Parents got together and organized. Whole families canvassed their neighborhoods, sharing their reasons for passing the override. If it failed (as a similar override did in 2015), our schools’ funding would have tanked at a time when it needed to rise just to meet the demand caused by our new families.
This issue brought out differences between these new families and the established ones in Melrose. Lots of the old guard are now subsisting on fixed incomes, having lived here their whole lives, and would be hugely impacted by a rise in their property taxes (an average increase of $545). “Vote NO” signs started popping up around the city, in yards right next to “Vote YES” ones. People wrote impassioned letters both for and against it in our newspaper. And on voting day, neighbors on both sides of the issue went to the polling places, greeted each other with smiles, and cast their votes. The override passed overwhelmingly.
The signs have come down, but there’s still work to do. I’m one of those citizens who feels relief that we now have the revenue we need, as well as empathy for those who may now struggle to pay their increased tax bill. I want everyone who loves Melrose to be able to stay in Melrose. We need the voices of seniors, immigrants, and renters, as well as those of our new families. Each resident has made Melrose into the city that I love, and the place in which my family can thrive. I believe we can have it all, and I'm going to work to make that happen. I love you, Melrose!