To the editor:

Like many Salem citizens I was angered but not at all surprised to see that yet another effort to address the housing crisis in our city failed. This latest effort (inclusionary zoning) yet again fell victim to the four intractable city councilors who seem to pride themselves on their ability to accomplish absolutely nothing for those of our community who are most vulnerable to the rising cost of housing in our fair city.

I could rationally and concisely lay out all the reasons we need zoning changes, I could fill pages about the need for more housing options, I could fill hours of public comments with tearful testimony from working class renters and homeowners forced out of our city by rising housing costs … but what would be the point? This has been done ad nauseum and still councilors Tim Flynn, Domingo Dominguez, Steve Dibble, and Art Sargent won’t move an inch.

It is worth noting that two of those intractable councilors (Dominguez and Sargent) are landlords themselves. It is also worth noting that not a single other Salem City Councilor is a renter. Is it any wonder that this city consistently fails to make any progress on housing when landlords are represented on the City Council but renters are not?

We often talk about the value diversity brings to public office; diversity in gender, in gender identity, in race, in ethnicity, and so much more. Yet what about economic diversity? How can we possibly expect to keep Salem affordable when landlords have a seat in local government and renters do not? How can we not question a councilor’s intractability over addressing the rising cost of housing when they stand to potentially profit from rising area rents?

We desperately need an at-large councilor who is a renter, who can speak from experience to the needs of renters, and who has a vested interest in keeping Salem affordable for renters. We need economic diversity on the Salem City Council.

Make no mistake; there will be a wave of evictions and homelessness throughout eastern Massachusetts (and America for that matter) in the wake of the COVID-19 epidemic...but regardless of this the unchecked market forces that are driving up the cost of housing in Massachusetts are anticipated by most economists to proceed unabated. Whether you like it or not, whether you acknowledge it or not, Salem is a part of Massachusetts. We are not an island and as such we can choose to either be proactive in our response towards housing or fall victim to the regional trend towards rising housing costs.

In this case, doing nothing is to take the position that pricing out our working class neighbors is the future of Salem.

Benjamin Shallop


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