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Residents share their concerns over affordable housing in Lynn

LYNN — Drenusha Jusufi, 28, graduated from Emerson College two years ago and is still living with her parents because she can’t afford to move out. 

“At some point, I do need to move out,” said Jusufi, a member of Lynn United for Change. “I’d like to live close to my parents and stay in the city I call home, but with the way rents are now, it’s going to be impossible to find a place I can afford.” 

Chandra Slattery, a mother of three school-age children, said she had to leave her apartment last year and struggled to find another place she could afford in the city. Her situation led to her moving in temporarily with family on the South Shore and it took more than a year for her to find another apartment in Lynn. 

“I know a lot of people are in the same situation,” Slattery said. “We need to find a solution to create more affordable homes for people in Lynn.” 

The two shared their stories in front of a packed room at an Exchange Street forum, “The Housing Crisis in Development in Lynn,” Wednesday night, which was hosted by Lynn United for Change. The purpose was to advocate for more affordable housing in Lynn. Organizers said some people in the city were feeling left out of new developments that they could not afford. 

“We’re not against development, but we want development without displacement,” said Isaac Simon Hodes, an organizer with Lynn United. 

To aim for more affordable housing, Andrea Park, an attorney at Boston-based Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, said Lynn could adopt an inclusionary zoning provision, which would require the inclusion of affordable housing with new residential development. She proposed requiring new buildings of eight units or more to include 20 percent of its units as affordable. 

Nearby Swampscott passed an inclusionary zoning provision two years ago, which required new developments of a certain size to make 15 percent of its units affordable. 

The bylaw was aimed at getting the town closer to meeting the state’s 10 percent threshold for affordable housing, which is the minimum communities must have to avoid Chapter 40B projects. The controversial measure allows developers to bypass local zoning on density if the percentage of affordable units is below 10 percent.

According to the state Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD), less than 4 percent of Swampscott’s housing stock is affordable, a percentage mirrored in nearby Marblehead and Nahant. 

According to the most recent DHCD report, Lynn has met the requirement, with 12.5 percent, or 4,435 of its 35,701 housing units considered affordable. 

But some city officials dispute that number, saying the affordable housing percentage in Lynn is much higher and that the need is for market-rate housing. 

Charles Gaeta, Lynn Housing Authority & Neighborhood Development (LHAND) executive director, said when other subsidized units, including Section 8 and Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program numbers, are accounted for, the amount of affordable and subsidized housing in Lynn is actually 27 percent. 

James Cowdell, Economic Development & Industrial Corporation of Lynn (EDIC/Lynn) executive director, said he opposes an inclusionary zoning provision. 

“Both studies done recently by a team of urban planners say we need market-rate housing in the downtown, which currently has 44 percent affordable, and the waterfront,” Cowdell said. “I feel the same as the city planners we hired. We need more market-rate housing. I wish there were more meetings on how to increase affordable housing in our surrounding communities.” 

But data shows rents have been on the rise in the city, where nearly 55 percent of its population are renters. 

In Lynn, the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in the first quarter rose to $1,281, a 1 percent hike from the same period a year ago, according to CoStar, a Washington, D.C., company with offices in Boston that tracks nearly 7,000 units on the North Shore. The cost of a two-bedroom unit in the first three months of this year was $1,618, up 3.4 percent from last year.

And that’s if you can find an apartment. Just 80 of 3,197 units were empty in Lynn during the first quarter, or a 2.5 percent vacancy rate. 

According to statistics from the National Equity Analysis, a partnership between PolicyLink and the USC Program for Environmental and Regional Equity, 57 percent of all renters and 78 percent of low-income renters in the city pay too much for housing, which is considered affordable when it comprises up to 30 percent of annual income. 

Affordability is especially challenging for the city’s youngest and oldest populations, according to a 2016 Lynn Housing Study prepared by LHAND.

The median household income for households under 25 years old is only $27,463, and for households over 65 years old, $26,910. Lynn’s over-65 households have the lowest median income in the immediate north-of-Boston sub-region, according to the study. 

Item reporter Thomas Grillo contributed to this report. 

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