BOSTON, MA — Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll was one of several state and local officials to offer testimony during a hearing Tuesday on Gov. Charlie Baker's Housing Choices bill. The bill would make it easier to rewrite zoning laws to create more housing — a scenario Driscoll has firsthand knowledge of, after recently losing an effort to rezone two, closed Catholic schools so they could be converted into apartments. Salem City Council rejected the measure by a 7-4 vote.
"The type of community that I raised my family in, that so many others want to, is becoming more difficult to afford," Driscoll said at Tuesday's hearing. "There isn't enough housing to go around."
Clark Ziegler, executive director of the Massachusetts Housing Partnership, said half of the new homes permitted in Massachusetts this decade have been built in just five cities That, he said, is driving up costs in every other part of the state.
Baker, who also testified at the hearing, noted that Massachusetts ranks first in the nation for media rents on two bedroom apartments. Critics of his bill say it will increase traffic and congestion, and even some supporters of more housing worry Baker's bill doesn't go far enough to address the needs of low-income renters.
Rep. David Decoste of Norwell, for example, worried about the impact more housing would have on Route 3 traffic, as well as water supplies on the South Shore. Those concerns could be addressed if the bill was reworked to make zoning of multi-family housing more appealing, as well as housing near public transportation.
"A major reason we are experiencing this crisis is because we have been building the same kind of housing for 40 years: Big single-family homes on large lots," Rep. Andres Varga said.
At an affordable housing forum in Salem in March, Alexa Smith, a senior regional housing and land use planner with the Metropolitan Area Planning Council said Salem would need to add 2,725 affordable housing units by 2030 to prevent residents from being priced out of the community.
Median income in Salem is 13 percent below the state average, but median home prices are only three percent lower than state averages. The end result is that only one in four housing units in Salem meet the definition of "affordable."