SALEM — Personal attacks and sniping between city councilors led to the defeat of an in-law apartment ordinance before the City Council Thursday night.
The City Council voted 6-5 to defeat an accessory dwelling unit ordinance at a last night, with a supermajority of eight votes needed for approval. The ordinance, if adopted, would have allowed in-law apartments to exist in homes without present-day restrictions that tie them to family or caregiver use only.
The defeat marks the second such blow for tools designed to add housing in Salem during this City Council session. It follows months of work on a zoning overlay targeting vacant religious and municipal property that was shelved in 2018 before being resubmitted as a special permit, and eventually passed, in 2019.
Housing forums early in the year called for an accessory dwelling unit ordinance to be considered. It appeared on City Council agendas over the summer after months of planning, triggering hours of hearings and waves of public comment for and against, though public comment at later meetings was largely positive.
"This is yet another thing we've spent months on to try and help a little bit here and there," said Ward 5 City Councilor Josh Turiel. "It's a real shame that this is likely now to get tossed overboard. It's too bad that this is what this body sees fit to do."
Opponents to the ordinance criticized its lack of rules requiring affordable housing units to be created.
"There's no guarantee that this is going to benefit anybody in terms of affordable housing," said City Councilor-at-large Elaine Milo. "And by the way, we haven't even defined affordable housing other than helping families that make $90,000 a year."
Milo channeled former Ward 7 City Councilor Joe O'Keefe, and how "one of the things he always said is if it isn't in writing, it doesn't exist."
"There are no guarantees here," Milo said. "Nobody has shown us that this will in fact affect affordable housing. So I can't support it."
Councilor-at-large Domingo Dominguez offered similar remarks, saying he isn't "the best communicator, but I know exactly what I'm doing. I represent a community that needs real solutions."
"There's none. None," Dominguez said. "Let's be aggressive. Let's show that we care about people. Let's not present it as a solution when, at the end of the day, nothing is happening."
Ward 7 City Councilor Steve Dibble said the ordinance "does more harm than good."
"If this passes, every single home in the city — single-family, two-family, three, four and five-family — can add one more apartment to the property," Dibble said. "You can take a garage in the backyard and turn it into a small house on every single property, on every single lot."
Anticipating the ordinance's failure, Mayor Kim Driscoll said the direction at that time "is a huge setback as a community."
Driscoll argued that the ordinance was created to give residents options for offsetting the cost of housing by creating small apartments in their property, and with that, also providing more housing for those who can't afford to move into the city otherwise.
"There's no one lane that fits for people who want to be here, who have been here and can no longer be here," Driscoll said. "This is an important tool for Salem. I hope you won't let it go away."
In her remarks, Ward 2 City Councilor Christine Madore referenced millenials and younger residents who live in illegal instances of in-law apartments.
"We've also heard from our seniors that say this type of housing has actually 'benefitted my life,'" Madore said. "The evidence is there. The facts are clear, and I'm wondering why we're saying this isn't going to make any difference. It's already making a difference, one way or another."
"Real leadership, like the mayor, comes up with solutions," said Councilor-at-large Tom Furey. "Housing is a crisis — housing, housing, housing. We have the opportunity to move something, and to kill this tonight is a sin and injustice."
"We were put here by voters to make decisions, and the voters have asked us to do this," said Ward 6 City Councilor Beth Gerard. "I've heard from so many people, so many constituents who want this, who need this to stay in Salem. Why are we continuing to hurt these people when our current housing policies aren't taking care of these people anymore?"
The final vote was 6-5 (two affirmative votes short of the eight needed for a supermajority), with identical roll-call votes taken on two pieces of the three-part package. Councilors in favor included Furey, Gerard, Madore, Robert McCarthy, Lisa Peterson and Turiel. Councilors opposed included Dibble, Dominguez, Flynn, Milo and Arthur Sargent.
A third part of the ordinance, which required the first two to pass, was left in committee to expire at the end of the year.