BOSTON (CBS) — Last Tuesday was municipal election day across Massachusetts. Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll weighed in on many of the key issues in that election.
Lack of affordable housing was an issue that took center-stage in many elections. The Salem City Council failed to pass a measure Driscoll backed that would have lifted restrictions on “in-law apartments” that are currently only allowed to be used to house to family members. This measure would have allowed people to rent them out. Driscoll addressed why the measure failed.
“The challenges we have around affordable housing are real, but it signifies how difficult it is to get a zoning amendment adopted in a city or town,” she said.
Passing a zoning amendment in Massachusetts requires a super-majority on the city council. Driscoll said that in Salem’s case, this requires eight out of 11 votes in favor, and that the measure passed the first vote but not the second.
“People were concerned, that voted against it, that it would change the character of housing,” she said. “And we know that accessory dwelling units and in-laws are the best way to increase the amount of housing without increasing big footprints.”
Driscoll said she is hopeful that the amendment can be refiled in January so that it might be adopted and create a meaningful difference, among many measures the city needs to take to address affordable housing.
Still, she said, some lawmakers are concerned about making any changes to zoning law.
“Zoning was adopted in the 60s and 70s. It’s not perfect,” Driscoll said. “Some of the most desirable, the most sought-after neighborhoods in Salem couldn’t comply with current zoning, but yet it becomes this Bible that people feel a real desire to hold on to. We need flexibility in Salem like most communities in historic New England to allow new housing to be developed and to be smart about it.”
She said she thinks the recent election and addition of new faces on the City Council may increase flexibility on the Council when it comes to changing housing laws.
“Housing issues aren’t going away,” Driscoll said. “If you want your young adult or your senior or folks who are living in the community to be able to stay there, then we have to address this housing challenge.”
Driscoll said one incumbent that voted against the in-law apartment measure was not re-elected.
Though rent control is illegal in Massachusetts, cities like Somerville have implemented “rent stabilization” measures such as allowing communities to intervene against dramatic rent hikes or capping rent hikes for seniors. Driscoll weighed in.
“I have some concerns about rent control because I saw what took place when rent control was here,” she said. “People didn’t make investments in their buildings, there were sometimes folks in rent control units that didn’t need the benefit. I think we need to be careful and cautious when we talk about rent stabilization policies.
Even so, Driscoll chastised landlords who evict long-standing tenants.
“There has to be a middle ground to protect those who have been here and recognize that stymieing investment is not a good practice either,” she said.