Salem ward candidates tackle city's housing crisis

·6 min read

Sep. 14—Staff Writer

SALEM — Complex problems require complex solutions, and not every candidate views them the same.

Take Ward 2, which includes downtown Salem, several historic neighborhoods, and bustling mixed-use corridors, all presenting a broad variety of housing. The candidates vying for the Ward 2 seat on the City Council have markedly different views on the status quo and how to respond. The candidates in other Salem council races offered similar diverging views on the housing crisis.

The Salem News asked each of the ward councilor candidates in the four races before voters in Tuesday's preliminary to explain how the housing crisis affects their ward, and what actions they would take, if elected.

Ward 1: The Point, Salem Willows and Juniper Point, Winter Island

Chris Malstrom, Jr. lives in the Derby Street neighborhood, one of the oldest parts of the ward. The neighborhood is heavy on renters, and as a result, there are landlords who "engage in ways to try and kick them (the renters) out so they can convert to condos and make the money selling off condos," according to Malstrom.

In other parts of the ward, rising home values are making tax bills unaffordable, he said. Part of the fix involves amending zoning laws to make it easier to build affordable housing, he said, and consider a rent moratorium to curb rising rent costs.

Incumbent Bob McCarthy says Ward 1 has "one of the densest areas in The Point." He agreed that Derby Street needs balance between apartments and condo conversions. Similarly, it needs things like accessory apartments to allow older residents to age in place — to Malstrom's point about rising tax bills.

"You want to try to create housing that'll be sustainable and affordable," McCarthy said. "That goes across the board."

Maribel "Belle" Steadman pointed to housing projects in the ward, including some that could impact green space. The housing crisis, she said, also includes challenges triggered by growth like increased burdens on infrastructure, traffic and parking.

"The more housing development, the more detrimental it is to the quality of life," Steadman said. "I want more businesses, and want more of this administration to take care of its residents."

Ward 2: Downtown, McIntire Historic District, Salem Common, Bridge Street Neck

"Ward 2 encompasses every style of housing and every aspect of the current market," said Caroline Watson-Felt. This includes, she said, "naturally affordable, quote-unquote 'affordable' units, public housing, all the way up to the most expensive properties in Salem."

She says the diversity in the ward's housing market, however, encompasses many different challenges present in the housing crisis.

"A lot of our gig workers who are without cars and trying to stay in Salem live in Ward 2 because it's walkable," she said. "The affordable housing solutions are multi-armed approaches, which include a condo conversion ordinance that a subcommittee of the Affordable Housing Trust Fund Board is working on, which will slow the rate."

Armand Blanchette, however, said the ward "really doesn't have a housing crisis. I think it's more or less Ward 1 or Ward 3. Ward 2, the average income is a lot higher than, let's say, other wards."

He said the ward also benefits from having U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton as a resident. "As far as what I'd do, I'm a believer in checking what we have for available parking for housing."

Jim Zavaglia said the ward has ample housing inequities. Tackling the housing crisis involves resolving those inequities, in part through outside support and subsidies.

"I'd be there to be a hands-on person, because everybody would like to live where they work," he said. "At the same time, with everything going on with the real estate boom, there's no housing stock. I get calls from Realtors all the time asking if I want to sell."

Ward 4: Gallows Hill, Salem Heights, Witchcraft Heights

Ward 4, located in southwestern Salem, is cornered by two of the city's heaviest traveled corridors: Boston Street and Highland Avenue. and within, lie sprawling single-family neighborhoods, multifamily housing and affordable housing in Salem Heights.

"Properties are turning over all the time," said Leveille "Lev" McClain. "Old properties are getting flipped. My property was flipped before I bought it, and part of what's happening is that sense of there being a neighborhood breaking down a bit. and that's one of the concerns I get from people — 'We belong here, and this place belongs to us.'"

Fixing that, McClain said, involves fostering culture and creating traditions for neighborhoods to build upon.

Graysen Martinez Ocasio said solving the housing crisis involves making it easier to buy a home, be it in a mixed-use building or a smaller, more eco-friendly and less costly single-family home.

"We have to be innovative," Ocasio said. "By making it sustainable, smaller and eco-friendly, we're covering a lot of bases."

Container homes and housing built off-site and trucked in pass savings on to the homeowner, which helps push them forward in the market, he explained.

"Container homes are an excellent way," Ocasio said. "People build them like little home villages, and they don't take up as much space."

Stephanie Rodriguez said the housing crisis is a national crisis, but Salem has priorities that need to be addressed, including housing for seniors and veterans. She admitted she doesn't have the answers yet, but that she'd be working with city officials and the ward's neighborhoods "to see what's needed necessarily, and the space to even put those in."

"We need to be implementing more systems and processes," she said, "so things that we currently have in place are efficient and anything we do start to build and create and propose ordinances for are mindful of environmental territory, the residents that live there, and the need, really."

Ward 7: Loring Towers, Salem State University, Rainbow Terrace, South Salem

The city's southernmost ward has its own unique neighborhoods, with unique aspects of the housing crisis that may not affect other parts of the city. That can be tough for newcomers to city politics to chase, like in Rodriguez' case in Ward 4 and Veronica Faustino in Ward 7.

"My approach to it would be looking at the situation in totality," said Faustino, "and trying to figure out where Ward 7 is on that, what the community wants in Ward 7 and all of Salem, and trying to make it fit the needs of the community."

That said, Faustino added that she'd like to see Loring Towers be rebuilt and Rainbow Terrace to be updated to better use space.

"There are people that need a place to sleep at night," she said, "and we can do better in terms of finding creative solutions to these problems and really utilizing the space we have."

Andy Varela, meanwhile, highlighted a segregation of different levels of affordability, created by the dichotomy between single-family homes and public housing being neighbors.

"I'd like to look at not only the zoning table but also how we integrate and make our housing not about putting everyone in one area that's either marginalized or low-income, but mixing it," Varela said. "We really need to look at how do we make sure that, when we do propose new housing, that it's a little more of a mixed blend for people."

A third candidate in the Ward 7 race, Fran Riggieri, wasn't available for an interview for this story.

Contact Dustin Luca at 978-338-2523 or Follow him at or on Twitter @DustinLucaSN.

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