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Salem is a 2019 Housing Hero

Posted on June 27, 2019

(Since 2011, MHP's Housing Institute holds an awards luncheon on its second day and recognizes communities and individuals for their efforts to create affordable housing. On June 6, 2019, the City of Salem was one of four to receive an MHP Housing Hero Award. Presenting the award was Tim McGourthy, deputy undersecretary for the state's Executive Office for Housing and Economic Development. Here are his remarks).

There are many reasons why MHP is honoring the City of Salem. One of them is “Imagine Salem.”

Launched in 2017, “Imagine Salem” is an ongoing community conversation with residents, organizations and businesses about what they want Salem to look like when the city celebrates its 400th birthday in 2026. What the city learned in feedback from over 1,900 people is they don’t want to lose their diversity.

For Mayor Kim Driscoll, this means the city must provide more affordable housing than the 12.8 percent that’s on the books. “If we lose the diversity of housing, we lose the diversity of our population – and we'll be the worse for it,” said Driscoll. 

The city is tackling this issue on a number of fronts. It has reached an understanding with Beverly, Salem and Peabody to work together to create housing for the homeless. It is looking to expand its Accessory Dwelling bylaw so it can’t just be used to house another family member or a caretaker. It’s hoping to create an inclusionary zoning bylaw that reaches families at or below 60 percent of area median income. And, it’s looking for ways to more easily convey surplus city land for housing. 

But, what sets Salem apart is that it also has a strong outreach and messaging campaign. The city meets with diverse working groups regularly to discuss a variety of initiatives. One example is the city works with groups like the League of Women Voters to give them facts so they can support the need for housing in public forums. 

Talk to anyone familiar with Salem’s full court press on housing and they all point to one person who is leading the way – Mayor Driscoll. 

“Local leaders like Mayor Driscoll are the difference in whether affordable housing gets built or not,” said Harborlight’s Andrew DeFranza. 

“If every mayor would follow her lead and galvanize the conversation around affordable housing with an eye towards action, our industry could be transformed,” said Mickey Northcutt of the North Shore CDC. 

“She’s not the kind of person who says ‘I’m up for election, I can’t take a position’. And she’s so darn optimistic, she gets YOU excited,” said Lisa Alberghini of the Planning Office for Urban Affairs. 

Alberghini said this after she developed the former St. Joseph’s Church site into 135 Lafayette, a 51-unit affordable housing development. Four times the project was stalled by lawsuits. Each time, Driscoll, then a new mayor, stood tall in support. “It was a great site, a gateway to the downtown and the Point neighborhood. I thought the neighborhood needed somebody in their corner. When things get harder, it’s important to be more involved, not less,” said Driscoll. 

A decade later, Mayor Driscoll is just as active. Just this year, she has appeared at the Statehouse to support Governor Baker’s Housing Choice legislation, hosted Baker at an event in Salem and penned a column with the Governor on the need for housing. She’s active on social media and recently used Twitter to promote the launch of the city’s new four-part video series on the need for affordable housing. 

We’ll show you Part Four of that video series now to give you one more reason why MHP is recognizing the City of Salem with a Housing Hero Award.

Read about the other 2019 MHP Housing Heroes:

Great Barrington

Keith Bergman

DHCD's Phil DeMartino