SALEM — In 2026, Salem turns 400 years old. Until then, the city seeks plans for a future where the housing market is more affordable for those who live or work in Salem.
The city recently launched Homes for Salem, a four-part video series designed to increase public awareness of the housing crisis and highlight the importance of creating affordable housing policies throughout the city.
Partnering with the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, the series shows statistics about the housing market, including interviews with Mayor Kim Driscoll, residents, officials and workers. Two out of three households spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing, deeming the city too expensive for longtime Salem residents or city employees to enjoy, according to the series.
The four episodes were shared on the city’s website as well as through social media and on YouTube.
Driscoll said she wants Salem to remain a welcoming community in the years to come.
“We’ve always been a city with a rich diversity of people,” she said in an email. “We’re now at risk of losing that legacy.”
Because the housing demand is so high, Driscoll said the city is considering strategies to encourage affordable housing, including inclusionary housing ordinances, modifications to current in-law apartment restrictions and plans to reuse vacant municipal and school buildings.
“Housing is a pretty complicated topic,” Driscoll added. “But just because something is complicated doesn’t mean it isn’t important.”
To keep up with population growth by 2020, Salem would need roughly 1,200 multifamily units and more than 210 single-family units, according to Salem’s 2015 Housing Needs Assessment,By 2030 it would need more than 2,725 units.
Featured in the Homes for Salem series, real estate agent Cynthia Nina-Soto of Nina-Soto & Company said that last year 60 to 70 percent of her clients, who rent or buy, moved out of Salem.
“The majority of people are leaving because they can’t afford it,” she said.
She said Salem’s housing stock is also overwhelmingly old, leaving new tenants to face steep rehabilitation and upkeep costs.
“We need to look at other creative ways,” she said, in terms of next steps to be taken, particularly with inclusionary zoning and the renovation of vacant buildings.
She said she hopes this series alerts people about the need and sparks conversations, as she said many don’t talk about it “until it touches them personally.”
In 2000, the median home sale price was around $287,000, according to the MAPC Rental Listings Database. Last year, that price climbed to more than $380,000. If this continues, officials say many lower-income households might have to compromise basic needs like food, health care and transportation to cover the cost of rent or mortgages.
In February, Gov. Charlie Baker filed An Act to Promote Housing Choices, a bill that calls for targeted zoning reform and the creation of 135,000 new housing units in Massachusetts by 2025.
Earlier in the year, Driscoll said hundreds of residents attended several public forums to learn about the crisis in Salem. For those who couldn’t attend, she said these videos will help get the information outs.
Driscoll plans to send a set of proposals to the City Council in the coming weeks, as a result of the forums and work of the Affordable Housing Trust Fund Board.
Andrew DeFranza, executive director of Harborlight Community Partners, an organization that creates affordable housing on the North Shore, has a strong presence in the Homes for Salem series.
“Our system is broken,” he said. “We can’t provide housing for workers in a variety of jobs.”
He said Salem is seeing an influx of high-end housing developments, which occupy space and further eliminate more affordable housing options. If this “massive structural flaw” isn’t tackled at a state level, DeFranza said, it could lead to the kind of gentrification seen in Somerville and other Boston-area communities, where all but the well-to-do are priced out.
“This issue is drastic,” DeFranza said, both in Salem and statewide. “If we don’t take action, there will be massive negative implications.
Staff writer Alyse Diamantides can be reached at 978-338-2660 or firstname.lastname@example.org.