In Marblehead even a household earning the town's median income not only cannot afford to buy a median-priced home but cannot manage even the least expensive three-bedroom home.
The topic is a complex one. There are multiple causes of the shortage. There are scores of organizations and resourcres for applicants, for community leaders and civic officials and for individuals and organizations interested in working to meet the need.
Why Worry About Affordable Housing?
According to many experts the housing affordability crisis in Massachusetts now affects all but the most affluent consumers and threatens to undermine the state's economic competitiveness. Especially in the Eastern part of the state (including Marblehead) where housing costs have risen dramatically over the past decade, outstripping income growth. A recent study reported that the state now has the second highest affordability problem in the continental U.S., trailing only California.
There is also a scarcity of housing which, in turn, leads to a scarcity of affordable housing. The Citizens' Housing and Planning Association (CHAPA) cites several factors for this scaracity, including:
- The high cost and relative scarcity of land available for residential development;
- Higher production costs associated with the development of more marginal sites;
- High wages and competition from commercial and other types of development;
- A complex maze of restrictive local zoning, subdivision controls and local permitting.
(Among the local boards and committees whose approval may be required for a single
unit of housing are Conservation Commission, Board of Health, Planning Board, Zoning
Board of Appeals and Historical Commission.)
Most of the units that do get built represent the high end of the market in almost all communities,
including Marblehead, contributing to unbalanced local housing markets.
The affordable housing challenge is great for Marblehead and most other towns. Expanding the supply of affordable housing while balancing concerns related to transportation, infrastructure, protecting
the environment, town services, school enrollments and fiscal capacity is a daunting task. In most Massachusetts towns the task is played out in an environment shaped by a strong history of home rule and local use decision-making, which often pits local interests against regional needs and housing needs against other priorities.
In Marblehead the high cost of both rental and home buying is a huge barrier for many local residents of lower or moderate income and for residents in other towns interested in taking advantage of the many assets that Marblehead has to offer.