By Maile Blume
Longtime Malden residents are being priced out of their homes and separated from their neighbors because of an ongoing rise in the cost of housing. In response, Malden is taking steps to address the affordable housing shortage that has emerged throughout the city.
A recent film created by community members in the “Filmbuilding Malden” program – coordinated through Urban Media Arts – celebrates the diversity that characterizes Malden, but also explores how the city’s changing housing landscape is displacing the very residents that make the city so diverse.
“I’m always proud of how diverse we are, but I feel that with the changes in our community, we’re pricing out working-class families that cannot afford to continue to live in a place where they have given so much and have brought just an intangible value,” said resident Zatcha Montes in the film “Green Elephant,” one of the five films in the series that explore the question “Who is Malden?”
“We had a friend who recently moved who could not afford to live here, and I was deeply saddened because my son and their son grew up together, and they were not able to stay here, not because they didn’t want to, but because they could not afford to,” Montes added.
As Malden is becoming increasingly unaffordable for many families, the community is grappling with the need for more affordable housing options. The housing crisis in Malden also disproportionately affects low-income communities and communities of color, said the deputy director of Housing and Community Development for the city, Alex Pratt, in the film.
“In ward eight or seven or four or two, we see higher numbers of renters and lower numbers of home-owners. And we also see more low-income people, more people of color. And we know that these communities are particularly at risk of displacement, whether that’s being evicted, or whether it’s being just pushed out because the rents keep going up and they can’t afford to stay,” Pratt said.
To address this ongoing housing situation, the city is taking steps to increase affordable housing options for residents who are at risk of displacement.
The Inclusionary Zoning Act is a local ordinance that will require developers who are building more than eight units to make at least 15% of those units affordable.
The ordinance, which was passed in 2021, aims to create housing options for those who need it most, said Pratt. To meet this goal, the city designated these affordable housing units for residents who earn up to 50% of the area median income.
“Unlike other communities around us where that threshold is at people who make 80% of the area median income, our threshold is set at 50% of the area median income, because we know that those are our residents who are really sorely in need of affordable housing even more so, and there are fewer affordable housing options available to them,” Pratt said.
A state law that is also shaping Malden’s housing future is Section 3A of the Zoning Act. The law — which was also passed in 2021 — requires some cities to establish zoning plans that allow multi-family housing to be built around MBTA stations.
The purpose of the law is to encourage multi-family housing to be built in close proximity to public transportation. However, the new law does not require that the new units are affordable.
Malden was established as one of the “MBTA communities” that will be affected by the new law. If the city does not create an ordinance that identifies the sections of Malden where multi-family housing will be permitted to be built as a right, it will be ineligible to receive funding from certain state grants.
Therefore, Malden is in the process of developing a city-wide plan for compliance with this law.
If the new, multi-family housing developments reach the eight unit mark, they will be subject to the Inclusionary Zoning Act, but if they are below eight units, there is currently no affordability requirement in place.
City Councilor Carey McDonald discussed the new zoning plan at a Sept. 12 city council meeting. “I think it’s important that we are trying to figure out how we move forward in a way that makes sense and complies with the spirit of the law,” McDonald said, “which is to make it possible for people to continue to live in this community who are being priced out right now, as every community around us is trying to do.”
Malden’s MBTA 3A Zoning Working Group — a group of city officials who have been coming together since April — are preparing a draft of Malden’s new zoning plan. This ordinance will be sent to the state house by the end of this year for review.
The next public hearing on the zoning ordinance draft will take place in November. The date and agenda of this meeting will be posted on the city’s online agenda center, and community members are invited to attend and give public comment on the new plan.
In addition to the new legislation, media coverage of the housing crisis is sparking conversations within the community about the need for more affordable housing. The featured residents in “Green Elephant,” for example, shared personal stories about the impact of gentrification on their neighborhoods as well as the strengths of their community.
“People are always working together, building bridges,” said Timmy Perry, the director of the Bridge Recovery Center — a peer-based recovery center in Malden. “We have community fridges, we have the warming center, and we all work as teams and make things happen,” he added.
Through community organizing, Malden can continue to address the affordable housing shortage. As conversations about the affordability of Malden are taking place, community members can come together and get involved with legislation that will shape the city, whether through providing public comment at city council meetings or reaching out to their city councilors. Community members are also invited to continue to share their stories and create more public media on this topic through working with Urban Media Arts.
Note: the 15-minute film “Green Elephant” can be viewed at this link.