$2400/month is not "affordable" rent – the Housing Lynn plan must be changed

Metro Area Planning Council, Mayor McGee, Lynn Housing, City Council


The Housing Lynn plan will help shape development in Lynn for the next five years. We need it to be changed to promote truly affordable housing and inclusive development instead of what we've been getting: segregated luxury buildings, gentrification, and displacement.

  • The "affordable" housing commitment in the Housing Lynn draft excludes most Lynn residents: a $2,400 apartment reserved for a family of 4 making over $95,000 is not affordable!
  • The plan currently exempts MOST new projects from a proposed Equity Impact Assessment that could force developers to respond to racial and economic justice concerns
  • The plan does not yet commit to putting anti-displacement protections in place before enabling large projects in new parts of the city
  • As written, the plan could be used as a smokescreen to enable more segregated luxury development, gentrification, and displacement
  • We need a commitment to real affordability in line with the needs of Lynn residents; an equity standard that applies to all new development; and a requirement to put in place anti-displacement protections & reform of current zoning’s "overly permissive dimensional rules" before pushing bigger developments into new areas of the city
  • With these key changes, the plan could help ensure that new development benefits Lynn residents with truly affordable housing, good jobs with benefits, safe worksites, and more open space

Sponsored by

To: Metro Area Planning Council, Mayor McGee, Lynn Housing, City Council
From: [Your Name]

Lynn families and individuals across the city are facing an emergency of unaffordable housing, overcrowding, and displacement. More and more people are outraged to see development that includes only luxury apartments and does nothing to address the needs of most Lynn residents.

The draft Housing Lynn plan includes useful data and analysis about this crisis and some good policy suggestions. But it has no commitment at all to housing that is actually affordable to average Lynn residents. Critical flaws leave the plan open to becoming a smokescreen for more segregated luxury development, gentrification, and displacement. With key changes, though, the plan could help guide development in a new direction that actually benefits Lynn residents.

First, there must be a commitment to truly affordable housing. The one part of the Housing Lynn draft that requires a specific commitment from the City [1] completely misses the mark: it commits the City to making 15% of new housing affordable for households with incomes at 80% of Area Median Income (AMI). That means an apartment with rent of $2400/month, reserved for a household of four with an annual income over $95,000, would count as “affordable.”

As the plan itself notes, that level of “affordability” – based on a median income of $119,000 for a huge area that lumps Lynn together with places like Newton and Marblehead – would be no help at all to the vast majority of renters here. The plan reports median income for all Lynn residents as $53,513 and median income for Lynn renters (who make up a majority of the city [2]) as $34,096.

Working class and lower income people of all backgrounds in Lynn are struggling with unaffordable and overcrowded housing, and would be left out by this unrealistic affordability standard. People of color would be particularly harmed: in Lynn roughly 78% of Latino households and 70% of Black households are renters, compared to 39% of white households [2]. These are the residents who have disproportionately suffered during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many are among the essential workers who have been lauded as heroes, and it would be unconscionable to adopt a plan that excludes them.

Instead of using an affordability standard that is completely at odds with the plan’s own analysis, the City should commit to creating housing that meets the needs of Lynn residents. Specifically, the City should commit to making 20% of new units in private developments affordable to Lynn households with a mix of units affordable at 50% AMI (around $60,000/year for a household of four), 60% AMI, and – to the greatest extent possible – 30% AMI. That should be coupled with a commitment to making a majority of units in public sector developments truly affordable, with at least half of those affordable units available for households at 30% AMI. All big developments – whether private or public – should be required to include homes for a range of family sizes, in contrast to current rules that virtually ban apartments for larger families from downtown.

In a historic moment of mass protest and heightened awareness of the need to challenge structural racism, Housing Lynn must also do more to counter segregation, disrupt institutional racism, and protect vulnerable groups as more development comes to Lynn. The Equity Impact Assessment proposed in the plan could be a good step, providing city officials and residents a tool to ensure development helps rather than harms people of color, working class residents, and lower-income households. But the plan proposes that the Equity Impact Assessment would only apply to the very small number of projects built on city-owned land. Developments on privately owned land would be exempt, despite being most likely to cause displacement, segregation, and other negative impacts. This must change: the City should commit to an equity standard that protects vulnerable groups, applies to all developments, and aligns with a policy of taking affirmative steps to end housing discrimination.

Finally, the plan suggests zoning changes to encourage a more diverse range of development options – including smart growth projects and multifamily housing – in additional areas of our city. To ensure this has a positive impact for current Lynn residents and does not spark gentrification and increase displacement in new parts of our city, the plan needs to include a commitment that these kinds of zoning changes will move forward only after key reforms are in place: anti-displacement protections for homeowners and tenants; inclusionary zoning; and amendment of current zoning’s overly permissive dimensional rules, to ensure developers must negotiate community benefits as projects are approved.

These changes build on the best elements of the draft to make a plan we can all get behind: a plan that helps to prevent displacement and segregation while enabling new development that benefits our city with green space, safe worksites, good jobs with benefits, reduced segregation, and housing that’s truly affordable to Lynn residents. Without these changes, the plan could be used to support more of the type of development we’ve seen in recent years: luxury-only housing that excludes current residents, increases segregation, drives displacement, and puts profit before people. Lynn can do better than that, and Housing Lynn can and should be amended to help us move in a positive new direction.

[1] Housing Lynn draft, page 93 - https://www.mapc.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/January-2021_Lynn-Housing-Report_Draft.pdf
[2] PolicyLink fact sheet - http://nationalequityatlas.org/sites/default/files/Lynn-Fact-Sheet.pdf