, Salem, MA


December 5, 2013

Our view: New commitment needed to fight homelessness


The state, working with local communities, needs to do a much better job creating affordable housing. Vacancy rates have dropped in the Greater Boston area, bringing with them a rise in rents many families can’t afford.

“At the root of this, the reasons vary, but there is just a real fundamental lack of affordable housing in general, but acutely here on the North Shore,” Elise Sinagra, director of the Beverly-based nonprofit Family Promise, told reporter Bethany Bray last month. “We live in a beautiful place, but an expensive place.”

Family Promise, which operates through private grants and donations, is one of the local bright spots in the fight against homelessness. The group houses homeless families overnight in a network of churches and houses of worship. A social worker is there to help families get back on their feet.

In its first six months, the group served 16 people in six families. Just as importantly, it trained close to 600 volunteers from more than 30 congregations on the North Shore.

The town of Danvers continues to lead other municipalities in its commitment to treat those in its motels as neighbors while attempting to solve the greater problem. Everyone from town officials to teen recreation department volunteers to the People to People Food Pantry have done all they can to help, even as the rising number of homeless puts a strain on town resources.

Town officials have also shown a commitment to creating more affordable housing, even turning over an abandoned house on Coolidge Road to the Affordable Housing Trust, when it would have been easier to sell it to a developer looking to raze it to build a high-end home.

That’s not even counting the long-awaited Conifer Hill Commons, the new complex of modestly priced apartments that were built without the need to resort to the use of the state’s 40B “anti-snob” zoning law. The new apartments — there will be 90 units when work is completed — aren’t low-income housing, but they do increase the stock of affordable housing.

Danvers’ approach shows a real understanding of the problem in both the short and long term. Others would do well to follow their lead.

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