Even with the North Shore’s vibrant tourism and hospitality industry, the region’s service-and-hospitality employees (many of whom, she noted, make higher than the state’s minimum wage) struggle not only to pay the rent but also buy homes.
DANVERS - Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll recently said the vital signs of North Shore economy are healthy as ever thanks to “a sustained boom economy,” but from that has emerged a housing crisis.
Even with the North Shore’s vibrant tourism and hospitality industry, especially in Salem, the region’s service-and-hospitality employees (many of whom, she noted, make higher than the state’s minimum wage) struggle not only to pay the rent, but also buy homes.
“The unemployment rate is the lowest it’s been in decades; maybe ever, and talent is in high demand. Wages have risen,” said Driscoll when she and other North Shore leaders addressed hundreds who attended the North Shore Chamber of Commerce’s State of Region breakfast at Danvers’ Doubletree Hotel on Wednesday, Sept. 12. “The converse of that is the cost of housing is rising faster than incomes, making housing affordability a, if not the, major issue in Salem.”
She added, “It’s definitely a regional problem, but Salem used to be a place where you could waitress, or cook, or tend bar and afford rent.”
Gloucester mayor, Sefatia Romeo Theken, said not-in-my-back-yard sentiments as well a ignorance among North Shore residents about what constitutes “affordable housing,” oftentimes, stymie projects.
Case in point: She said it took three years for her city to finally permit the redevelopment of the city’s Fuller School into a mixed-use development. That will result in a new YMCA and a 200-unit housing complex, including affordable-housing units, but to get to that point, did not come without challenges to the redevelopment permitting and residents whom she characterized as resistant to change.
“A lot of people don’t understand what affordable housing is,” said Romeo Theken, adding from that ignorance, residents often challenge affordable-housing projects. “A lot of people [say] they don’t want ‘those people.’ ‘Those people’...I hate those works more than ‘you need to lose weight.’”
The latter comment received widespread laughter before she pivoted her talk, saying the region’s leaders needed to do a better educating residents about affordable housing projects.
“Affordable housing is for the workforce, low-income; it’s a sliding scale,” she added. “People don’t understand that.”
Romeo Theken encourage communities to market one another’s tourism resources and to find avenues to work together. She also said, in her community and others, more people need to roll up their sleeves and get involved.
“We all have those 10 people whom I believe just love to go to meetings and encourage 10 more people to keep doing all of these petitions and all these things and I keep looking at the same 10 people,” she said.
“We need to work together,” Romeo Theken said.
The event last week also marked the first state-of-the-region address for former state senator turned Lynn mayor Thomas McGee.
He ticked off a few development residential and commercial development projects in his city, too, pointing to a future groundbreaking of a 340-unit residential development and, “in the very near future,” a 10-story mixed-use development downtown.
He, like Driscoll, said investment in transportation infrastructure and housing should go hand in hand.
“As Boston becomes more and more unaffordable, people are looking to move to cities like Lynn,” he said. “Transportation has been an issues I have been fighting for my whole career because I believe that it just makes sense economically not just for Lynn, but for our entire region.”
Driscoll characterized grounding to a halt housing development projects as counterproductive to addressing the housing shortage and spiraling affordable housing concerns.
“It’s a real stress in many of our cities, and it effects seniors, working families, young adults and folks living on the street most assuredly,” said Driscoll. “We have over 1,300 seniors on the wait list for subsidized affordable housing in Salem and the wait is over 18 months. For families, it’s twice that.”
Driscoll said the region needs to support new housing at every level - affordable, market rate, rental and ownership.
“I’m stressing housing, because it’s one issue that we need to collaborate on with the business community,” she said. “Ultimately, it impacts and directly ties to employment and our ability to maintain the boom we’re seeing now, that we know at some point will recede.”