SALEM — A majority of residents who spoke to the City Council Thursday night came out in favor of a proposal to allow in-law apartments in the city.

A total of 35 residents spoke on the issue during the council meeting held on Zoom, with 22 in favor and 13 opposed. The council voted to table the matter and take it up again at a future meeting.

The in-law apartment ordinance, known more formally as “accessory dwelling units” or ADUs, would allow homeowners around Salem to build smaller apartments in their homes or create exterior additions to accomplish the same. Rules exist today allowing homeowners to do so, but only for relatives or caregivers.

Proponents said the ordinance would provide more affordable options for everyone from Salem State University graduates who want to continue to stay in the city to senior citizens who want to be able to stay in their homes. Rent for the units would be capped at 25 percent below fair market rent, which would be $1,286 for a studio, $1,425 for a one-bedroom, and $1,733 for a two-bedroom, according to the city’s planning department.

“Most of us are one setback away from endangering our housing,” Forest Avenue resident Rosa Ordaz told councilors. “We can barely make it. This will really set the tone for what kind of city we want to be and who we value as part of our community.”

Goodhue Street resident Nicole Lashomb said that even a few hundred dollars off somebody’s rent can allow them to stay in the city. She said the units will blend into existing neighborhoods.

“Salem is beautiful in every color that it comes in, every fabric that it comes in,” she said.

But Bayview Circle resident Nadine Hanscom said the apartments will change the character of the city’s neighborhoods.

“We have a beautiful single-family neighborhood,” she said. “Nobody has the right to change the single-family neighborhood, if you’re an elected official or not.”

Resident Alvi Ibanez agreed, saying his neighborhood is already “under siege” from development.

“I like Salem the way it is,” Ibanez said. “An overpopulated Salem is not something I want for my life or for my children.”

“These are neighborhoods that many of us cherish,” Tremont Street resident Christine Derby said. “The new ordinance is totally going to change our neighborhoods under the guise of housing.”

Graysen Ocasio, a member of the Latino Leadership Coalition, said the organization voted Thursday to support the ADU ordinance and urged councilors to vote in favor.

“When someone says, ‘Maintain our neighborhood, it’s beautiful,’ it sounds extremely charged to somebody like me,” Ocasio said.

Mickey Northcutt, the CEO of Salem-based North Shore Community Development Corporation, said ADUs are “perfect” for older folks who want to live in a small space that requires less maintenance, as well as for young people.

“Who among us doesn’t know young people who are starting off and just abjectly struggling for housing?,” Northcutt said. “I would’ve killed for one of these apartments if they were readily available when I was that age.”

Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2535 or pleighton@salemnews.com.

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