SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Local News

April 21, 2014

Few affordable units puts squeeze on renters

When Julie Hill was forced to move out of a relative’s house two years ago, she and her 2-year-old daughter suddenly faced the possibility of being homeless.

Hill, 29, started looking for an apartment to rent on the North Shore, where her fiancé works, but prices were more than she could afford. She tried to get into public housing in several cities, but waiting lists stretched for years.

“There was absolutely nothing,” she said. “There were nights when I found myself curled up in a ball on the floor crying because I didn’t know what we would do. I didn’t want to move into a homeless shelter with my child.”

Apartment hunters like Hill are frustrated by Massachusetts rents, the sixth-highest in the nation, and lack of low-income rentals. Making matters worse, fewer new affordable units are being built now that federal funds for affordable housing have been cut in half, according to nonprofit groups, and cash-strapped communities generally don’t have the money to pay for development.

As a result, rental prices north of Boston are far outpacing income growth, housing experts say.

“We simply don’t have enough money to deal with the needs of the region,” said Kevin Hurley, director of the Peabody-based North Shore HOME Consortium, the main conduit for federal housing funds in the region.

The consortium expects to get only $1.3 million this year from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to develop affordable housing in 30 towns and cities. That’s less than half of what it has received in previous years.

It will dole out the money to nonprofits, through a vetting process that got underway last week, yielding about 20 to 30 new affordable apartments in the next year.

Hurley said that’s only a drop in the bucket.

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