Confronting affordable-housing challenges in Malden

forrentsignTo say that the demand for affordable housing has increased since Malden’s strategic five-year plan (2010-2014) and its 2010 master plan were formulated would be stating the obvious.

City, state and federal funding has been spent with good intentions and a number of positive results to “preserve” and “expand” affordable housing for Malden’s low- and moderate-income residents.

With funding resources dwindling and the debate as to how those funds would best serve those in need,  it will have to be decided if temporary or permanent shelter is the way to go — although some school of thought suggests that window of opportunity has closed since millions have already been spent on temporary shelters.

According to a December 2013 Boston Globe article by Megan Woolhouse and David Abel: “Record numbers of homeless families are overwhelming  the state’s emergency shelter system, filling motel rooms at the cost to taxpayers of tens of millions of dollars a year.  In the past five years, state spending on motels has exploded to more than $46 million from about $1 million in 2008.”

Howard McGowan from the Massachusetts Senior Action Council

For Neighborhood View, we interviewed some key local role players starting with Steve Finn, executive director of the Malden Housing Authority. “There are communities where there are opportunities to create more affordable housing and there are also funds you can leverage like Community Preservation funds,” Finn said. ” I was a supporter of it (Community Preservation Act), which was defeated 80 to 20. So I think there is some hesitancy on behalf of the municipal government to wage that battle again, although I hope it does come again.”

What is this Community Preservation Act that has funds available for those city and towns that adopt it?

According to Wikipedia the Community Preservation Act (CPA) is a Massachusetts state law (M. G.L. Chapter 44B) passed in 2000. It enables adopting communities to raise funds to create a local dedicated fund for open space preservation, preservation of historic resources, development of affordable housing and the acquisition and development of outdoor recreational facilities.”  Municipalities must adopt a local property tax surcharge to be eligible to receive matching funds.

Steven Ultrino, a Malden city councilor, felt that the Community Property Act was defeated because people thought it was a Proposition 2 override. “Anytime we mention raising taxes, people become offended, I know the trash bags offend people, some consider the trash bags also to be a Prop 2 override,” Ultrino said.  “The hesitation from what I’m hearing, is would the people (of Malden) be willing to absorb an extra property tax. I think the Community Preservation Act is great in many ways, not only for redevelopment of say the Malden Hospital area or any of our natural resources which we want to preserve, but we would have to go to the voters.”

If the line of reasoning is Malden residents don’t want an increase in taxes (not more than 3 percent of the tax levy against real property) and that is why they are not supporting the Community Preservation Act (CPA), perhaps they should consider the millions of tax dollars they are already spending to house homeless families in temporary shelters as opposed to an investment in permanent affordable housing through CPA Trust Funds.

When discussing the thinking regarding affordable housing, three things are mentioned: the political will, the housing market and state and federal funding resources.

Finn explained: “I think it’s one of those factors that the market determines what happens. When it’s a slow rental market you have more willingness by property owners to cooperate to set aside units, but in a market like now it’s very difficult to get people who are motivated by profit to assist the community to their board of directors and investors detriment. That’s the difference between us and them, their bottom line is about profit; our bottom line is about people.”

Howard McGowan from the Massachusetts Senior Action Council says it’s a numbers game. “They don’t have to set aside affordable housing units because they (Malden) are above 10 percent affordable housing,” McGowan said.  “The city’s vision is to have high- rise apartment building close to the MBTA at market rates. What’s happening is that Boston rental rates are so high that the young professionals will rent and sleep in Malden at a cheaper market rate but won’t spend in Malden then Malden becomes a bedroom community just to fill these high rise apartments.“

City Councilor Steven Ultrino

Councilor Ultrino indicated “to my knowledge there’s been no private proposals made that had any mention of any type of affordable housing, because they are not taking any federal or state grants to build those properties. And since we are over the 10 percent (for affordable housing) the zoning ordinance does not apply.”

All three interviewees agreed that Malden Mayor Gary Christenson is committed  to addressing the negative impact that an average low-income household faces not only due to physical affordable housing needs but to household cost burden.

Household cost burden is when you spend greater than 30 percent of your income on housing.  Severe cost burden is when you spend greater than 50 percent of your income on housing.  As noted in the Malden Strategic Plan (2010-2014) “…the dominant housing problem facing Malden residents, is housing cost burden.  21 percent of all households have severe cost burdens, a problem that affects more renters than owners. 23 percent have moderate cost burdens with 60 percent of these being renters.”  It is likely that any change since then will have resulted in higher instances of both moderate and severe cost burden, given the further downturn in the economy.

When asked what recommendation he would offer to Malden City government, Finn suggested: “The city could look at inclusionary zoning where there is a mandate to set aside a certain percentage of any development for affordable housing.”

Councilor Ultrino said more research is needed. “Either state or federal funding for housing and redevelopment will have to be researched,” he said. “That’s something I will take back to the Mayor and the Redevelopment Authority to investigate. Are there other channels of state and federal funding available?”

McGowan suggested there is power in numbers. “Convince the Mayor that Housing and Urban Development (HUD) must do something more, the federal funds are there,” he said.  “Set up a meeting with the Mayor and the Malden Redevelopment Authority, the Malden Housing Authority, the Senior Action Council, disabled peoples representative, homeless peoples reps find out where we can get federal funds then go to Senators Edward Markey and Elizabeth Warren with a small delegation.”

The certainty is Malden has a significant number of residents from diverse households who are in need of essential services relating to housing.

Most of us think of single mothers with two or more children when you mention affordable housing needs. The reality is quite different as Councilor Ultrino found out from the number of calls he has received asking for help.

He noted “most of my calls for the need of housing is not the single mother with two children as I thought it would be, it’s from the elderly, many saying “my husband’s gone I can’t afford this rent, social security can only help me so much where do I go?” that’s a good question and there has to be a way through the feds and the state to build these houses and integrate them into the community.  I think Malden has a lot to be proud of but there is room for growth.”

As the current Malden Strategic Plan (2010-2014) finishes and strategic partners gather to layout the next five-year plan for Malden, we humbly ask that serious consideration be given to finding ways to build permanent affordable housing for the many residents in need.

Needs are many and varied, moneys are scarce and the demands far exceed the resources. Consequently we advocate for long-term solutions not band-aid type quick fixes which generally allow wounds to fester to epidemic proportions.

Let us never forget there are people behind the statistics. — Marcia Manong & Karen Lynch



  1. The needs of our elderly are not going anywhere. I can’t even fathom a solution, it seems like an overwhelming task. God bless those that are trying.

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