In a lop-sided world, we have a lot to share.

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By Sarah Bartley

My eyes were glued to the paper. The Globe didn’t interview me,  I thought, but oh man, they sure explained my life. 

img_2545I grew up in a two-bedroom, second-floor apartment that anchored a quiet street, lined by a mix of single-family and two-family homes with yards. I fondly remember it as a small town known for high-quality schools, a bustling public library, and a municipal swimming pool. There is absolutely no reason my mother and I should have afforded to live in that community.

In fact, we almost didn’t live there. When I was in Kindergarten we lived in a neighboring city in a tiny walk-up apartment above a store-front. That apartment was hardly in our price-range.

But then an amazing thing happened. We began attending a church where someone connected us to an elderly widow who owned four apartments nearby. She took a chance on us and, out of both kindness and convenience, rented to us for a stable, below market-rate price for the 15-years, coinciding with my school career. My story is rare ”we were both extraordinarily fortunate and privileged.

When we lived there, the town graduation rate was nearly 100%. There was an 11:1 ratio of teachers to students. The vast majority graduated fully expecting to attend college or a trade school. My point in telling my story is to highlight how where I happened to live influenced my educational trajectory. Location also opened access to adult-mentors and extracurricular activities. I lived a different kind of childhood because my family found affordable housing in a community that had a lot to share.

The handful of cities and towns that make up the North Shore also have a lot to share. While there is always room for improvement, we no doubt have some good schools. We have some thriving businesses, beautiful parks, and generous people. I suspect that is the reason our communities can also be at times resistant to the creation of affordable housing. What if, we might wonder, the resources get spread too thin? Will our communities change?

Back to that article   I picked up. The Globe has been looking at how income disparities are reshaping our region. They found that just 21 percent of federally subsidized units in Eastern Massachusetts are in so-called high-opportunity neighborhoods, with ready access to jobs, healthy food, and quality schools.  When suburban communities do create affordable housing, it’s often restricted for seniors to avoid adding more children to the schools. Politics and inertia have conspired to create a lopsided geography of affordable housing. 

This means that stories like mine really are rare. I am sure we can all agree that all children in all neighborhoods deserve an equal chance at life. That is what we should be striving for. But as I think about what my community has to offer, I believe we hold the keys to a very special opportunity to share. When opportunities to create family-friendly affordable housing arise, I hope we will say yes more often.

About our Guest Blogger:

Sarah Bartley is a Beverly resident and active with local organizations who serve families experiencing homelessness.