James Willis Answers Our Questions
Point Gentrification, Memorial Drive Housing, Future Footprint Development
Question 1 – The Point neighborhood has long been the starting point for Salem immigrants. The recent trend towards gentrification and the possible sale of the Shetland property have raised concerns as to how affordable the home prices and rental rates will be moving forward. What can the City do, what should the City do, to keep the housing in The Point affordable?
Keep housing in the Point affordable is a difficult goal and I do not wish to understate this difficulty. Unlike many other areas of Salem, most of the Point is already densely settled and there are few parcels available to build additional affordable housing. Long term homeowners and landlords are taking advantage of the hot housing market and selling their properties at a large profit, as is their right. New landlords buying at the height of the market do not have the flexability to keep their rents affordable. These factors are creating a perfect storm that has forced many, many residents to leave the neighborhood. As a renter, I empathize with those people who have left, as I am concerned that my family may soon be forced to do the same.
The City needs to prioritize efforts to maintain affordability in the neighborhood. While it has only an incremental impact on home prices and rents, the building of affordable housing across Salem should be strongly encouraged. The recent changes at the Salem Housing Authority are a hopeful sign of progress in that area. We need to look at what surrounding communities HAVE NOT done well- Gentrification in Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville has forced out many of their lower income tenants and rising taxes have driven many homeowners to sell their properties. The vibrancy of our diverse community depends on being able to house the people who work and get educated here. Salem needs to preserve its middle class and not just become a home to very high income and very low income residents.
Question 2 – The open space between Fort Avenue and Memorial Drive consists of Fort Lee and the area designated as 56 Memorial Drive. The Affordable Housing Trust Fund Board is looking at that land as a potential site for new housing. What are your thoughts on the proper use of that piece of Salem open space?
While it is premature to dismiss the use of the site for housing, I am skeptical about the ability of the area to absorb any great number of residential units. The AHTF Board is in the early stages of evaluating city land at 56 Memorial Drive and other nearby parcels that are not currently under city ownership, and I am reserving judgment until there is a clear proposal following input from the South Essex Sewerage District and nearby residents. Much of the land under discussion is used for “passive recreation”, which currently has little to no impact on traffic and parking in the area. Given the clear need for affordable housing, I will balance that need with the potential impact of development once there is sufficient data.
Question 3 – Footprint Power and the Salem Harbor Port Authority are beginning to look at how the 40+ acres of land remaining at Salem harbor Station will be redeveloped. Zoning changes will have to be made for there to be uses other than what the current industrial designation allows. How would you like to see this area utilized?
The Salem Harbor Port Authority [SHPA], which the Ward 1 counselor sits on as the neighborhood’s representative, is in the early stages of considering this redevelopment. I have been attending the meetings of the SHPA since it began to meet in January and have been following this process. I have also reviewed the 2011 and 2013 data/studies regarding the site and the 2008 Salem Harbor Plan (which is overdue for revision). I am encouraged by Mayor Driscoll’s goal, as stated at the September SHPA meeting, to revise the Salem Harbor Plan in conjunction with pursuing a “broad visioning” process while working with Footprint to find future uses for their site.
I am reserving judgment on uses for the site until a broad review has been conducted, encompassing the City, state (which needs to sign off on any DPA and Chapter 91 changes), Footprint, technical experts, and the Derby Street-area neighbors. Any use will depend upon, not only the wishes of Footprint as the owner of the 40+ acres, but the relevant state agencies who will need to approve changes. Once a full review has been completed, I will consider the data and feedback obtained. The Mayor has indicated her desire to pursue uses to the site which respect the historic neighborhood located near the Footprint land; it is my goal to ensure that this goal is met.