Housing in Salem FAQs and Common Concerns
The City of Salem does not build any housing. Who does?
The Salem Housing Authority owns and manages 715 units. These units are for low income, elderly, and disabled people. New units haven’t been created since 1990 and none are in the pipeline.
Not-for-profit partners (North Shore CDC, Harborlight Community Partners) own and manage 288 units in Salem. These units are for low and moderate income people and the formerly homeless. North Shore CDC has 46 units permitted but not yet built due to lack of state funding.
The private sector is responsible for about 95% of Salem’s 18,998 existing housing units and is building about 96% of new housing in Salem.These units are for anyone who can afford to live in them and 1,116 new units are permitted or under construction. These units are a mix of single family houses, apartments, and condominiums.
Some of these private sector units are “Naturally Occurring Affordable Housing” (NOAH). Others have affordability requirements, including new 82 affordable units that are permitted or under construction.
Salem has enough people. Doesn’t new housing just bring in more people from Boston and Somerville?
Existing residents of Salem are a diverse and vibrant mix of ages, backgrounds, and incomes, but a lack of housing options may mean they’ll have to leave Salem.
A growing population has economic benefits, including a greater tax base, more support for local businesses, and a larger employment base for local employers. A growing population has contributed to the vibrancy and diversity that are some of Salem’s most defining and valuable attributes.
New units are all luxury units that Salem residents can’t even afford.
New housing in Salem is not all luxury housing. Since 2007, 261 Affordable Housing units have been created. Financing Affordable Housing is not easy.
It’s more common for Affordable Housing units to be produced as part of mixed-income developments so that market-rate units can cross-subsidize the Affordable units. The City uses Inclusionary Zoning and other tools to incorporate Affordable Housing units into market-rate developments. Without the addition of market-rate units, Salem would see fewer new Affordable units.
Rental housing is for transient residents who aren’t invested in the community. Renters aren’t like us.
For some, rental housing is preferable, maybe due to the size of units or the building management and maintenance. For others, it’s the only opportunity they have to live in a place they love—for a median priced home of $350,000 in Salem, a down payment of 20% is $70,000. With a median annual household income of $65,528 in Salem, it would take many years for a household to save enough money for a down payment while also covering rent and other basic needs.
Many folks who help Salem run depend on rental housing—over 63% of employees in Salem work in health care, social assistance, education, accommodation, food services, and retail. Based on average incomes in these sectors, one of these workers would struggle to afford a 1-bedroom rental unit in Salem, which costs $1,675 a month, or between 38% and 94% of their monthly income. Unless they’re part of a two-income household, these residents can barely afford to rent in Salem, let alone buy a home.
The city’s infrastructure (pipes, water, services) can’t handle more housing/people.
New development actually helps improve the City’s 400-year-old water and sewer infrastructure! The City requires a thorough inspection of water and sewer capacity before a new housing development is approved. If the City finds capacity is limited or in need of improvement, the developer is tasked with making improvements that are proportional to the increase in capacity required for the new development.
Our schools are at capacity so we can’t add more housing for families.
Salem has seen a decrease in school children. Since 2000, school enrollment has decreased by 15%, or 841 students.
New housing doesn’t necessarily result in more school children. A MAPC Greater Boston study on the influence of housing on school enrollment found that there is no correlation between housing production rates and enrollment growth.
There’s no place for new housing (coastal flooding limits development opportunity, we must protect open space, etc.)
The City includes safeguards in its zoning for housing in flood zones including the Flood Hazard Overlay District special permit. In general, the City uses zoning and other strategies to determine where new housing production should occur in order to balance development constraints and different planning goals.
Why should we help developers make a profit?
Housing is not considered a public good in this country. Like anything else, it’s created, bought, and sold. If developers don’t make a profit, they have no incentive to build housing, which Salem needs!
Housing is a key element of the national and local economy. By building more housing, developers create jobs for a variety of workers, including electricians, plumbers, laborers, masons, carpenters, engineers, architects, and landscapers, to name a few.
Local developers like the North Shore Community Development Coalition and Harborlight Community Partners are mission-driven rather than profit driven, so they can take a lower return on investment in order to produce Affordable Housing. But they alone cannot develop the amount of housing needed to meet demand in Salem.
Salem has too much Affordable Housing already. We do we need more?
Salem’s supply of Affordable Housing does not meet local need. For every 4 low-income households in Salem, there’s only 1 deed-restricted Affordable Housing unit. About 10.5% of Salem’s housing stock is Affordable, but about 244 of those 2,032 units could expire by 2030.
Qualifying folks of all ages, including those 60 years and older, spend over three years on the wait list for Salem Housing Authority affordable units. The waitlist for a housing voucher, which can be used to subsidize market-rate unit costs, is ten years.
Salem has already added enough new housing. We don’t need more housing.
Recent trends show fewer housing opportunities have been created in Salem than in previous cycles. Salem added 1,594 new units between 2000 and 2018, compared to 2,300 units between 1980 and 1999.
Welcoming housing policies can help maintain a diverse community. Salem needs more housing to address specific gaps in the housing supply, such as units that are affordable to a range of incomes and that accommodate folks seeking starter homes or looking to downsize.
Salem shouldn’t have to solve Boston’s housing crisis.
Salem’s housing prices are rising because demand exceeds supply. The 2017 median home sale price was $350,000, up from $268,399 in 2012. While homeowners looking to sell can benefit from rising home values, those that want to stay in their homes face higher property taxes, and residents hoping to buy a home or downsize may have a hard time finding housing they can afford.
Rents have also risen: the median monthly rental price for a 2-bedroom unit in Salem in 2017 was $1,970, compared to $1,770 in 2013. Limiting Salem’s housing supply so that it cannot meet demand contributes to rising housing prices and increases the risk of displacement to Salem residents.
Just as Salem has benefited from the region’s economic boom through greater employment opportunities, increased spending at local businesses, and greater tax revenue, it also needs to do its part to ease the housing crunch.
There’s a need for Affordable Housing here, okay, but nothing else.
Many Salem residents who do not qualify for most Affordable Housing still face housing challenges. These may be moderate- or middle-income residents working at local restaurants, as teachers, as municipal employees, or as nurses. These residents may need to downsize from their current home or find a larger home for their growing family; they may need accessible units or may need to live closer to transit because they can’t drive. A lack of housing and diverse housing choices on the open market makes it difficult for them to find housing that suits their needs at a price point that works for them.
There’s not enough parking already (particularly during October!)
The residential parking supply should meet demand and housing development can be paired with strategies to promote alternatives to single-occupancy vehicles, such as improved transit service.
Another strategy used throughout the region to reduce traffic congestion, solve parking problems, and make alternative transportation more affordable is Transportation Demand Management. This tool requires developers of certain projects to provide residents with incentives that curb parking demand, such as a transit subsidy, car share, free shuttle bus, or bicycle parking.
Won’t more housing makes traffic even worse?
New housing is not the main contributor to traffic in an area. Factors with as much if not more impact on traffic generation include a lack of transit options, slow drivers looking for parking, and inefficient roadway design. The scale of development and parking requirements are rarely high enough to impact traffic flows in a given area.
We need to protect Salem’s open space from development.
Nearly 38% of Salem is and can remain open space for recreation! The City can both protect open space and increase housing opportunity through a housing strategy that focuses new production on vacant or underused parcels, re-development of buildings that are vacant or currently used for other purposes, and in infill areas around the city.
We need businesses not residents, commercial spaces not housing units.
The City continually advances initiatives to support economic development, including small business loans and working with the state on economic incentive programs. Meeting the housing needs of residents is another worthy endeavor the City is pursuing, and one that is compatible with improved economic development.
Without housing that’s affordable to employees, employers may need to relocate to areas with more housing opportunity. Many workers in Salem cannot afford to live in the city. Unless they’re part of a two income household, these valuable members of Salem’s community would need to commute into the city for work.