To the editor:

I am writing to respond to your article on Salem’s accessory unit debate and the new Housing Choice law “Accessory dwelling debate resurfaces,” Feb. 10). Both have some significant downsides, particularly for families.

We have a shortage of family homes in Salem. Family homes are three-and-up bedroom homes in which people can raise children. When you create an accessory unit in such a bedroom house, you effectively destroy a family unit of housing. My husband and I had a difficult time trying to find a family house in Salem when we wanted to relocate with three children because so many Salem houses have been chopped up into one- or two-bedroom apartments and condos. Families are important – they are the bedrock of our future. Families create strong neighborhoods and cities. I strongly suggest to Salem councilors that accessory dwelling units be permitted only if there is a surviving 3-bedroom unit – in other words, a family unit of housing.

Furthermore, Housing Choice that just passed is a disaster for the average citizen. Removing the two-thirds majority vote to rezone means that anyone’s neighborhood can now be easily rezoned while they unknowingly sit at home and watch Netflix. You could wake up one day and find your yard abutting a commercial-industrial zone. (This isn’t a long shot. It happened to families on River and Federal streets.) More likely your neighborhood will be up-zoned to attract developers, who will buy and chop up all of the family homes into condos or apartments — this is actually the intent of the law. Another disaster for family housing, although a great opportunity for developers. To protect the interests of existing residents, the Salem City Council should to pass an ordinance that requires a notification and a public hearing to all residents within a proposed rezoning area, so they can at least have an opportunity to plead for mercy.

Housing Choice also removed the requirement for 10% affordable housing in an “opportunity” zone, as we have designated in downtown Salem. That’s another developer giveaway. And to further support developers, Housing Choice now gives trial judges the ability to require opponents filing an appeal of special permits and zoning decisions to rustle up the money for a $50,000 cash bond to essentially buy into their day in court. If they lose their appeal, they will be required to pay developers for costs incurred. (That sounds really un-American, doesn’t it?)

Overall, these new policies are detrimental to families, the less financially fortunate, and pretty much anyone who isn’t a developer. So much for the American Dream.

Jennifer Firth

Salem