Our view: In Hamilton, a teenager helps lead the way
The town of Hamilton has earned a reputation on the North Shore as one of the area’s least supportive communities for affordable housing.
Only 3 percent of its housing stock is deemed affordable, a local record exceeded only by Boxford, which has less than 1 percent. Moreover, townspeople seem content to let things remain the way they are; not a single affordable house or apartment has been added in the past three years, according to state Housing and Community Development records.
Indeed, though town officials agreed two years ago to partner with the nonprofit Harborlight Community Partners to create affordable housing in town, neighbors have so far objected to virtually every proposal, with the exception of a proposed complex of 20 apartments that would be limited to senior citizens.
So it was particularly encouraging this week to discover an 18-year-old high school student taking a leadership role in town to advocate for lower-income people who cannot find housing there.
Laura Miller, a Hamilton resident who is a student at the private Waring School in Beverly, has spoken out at meetings and gotten some of her fellow students to come with her to push for affordable housing. And she is working with another Hamilton resident to form an advocacy group to counter the negative stereotypes about affordable housing and the people who live there, and support efforts to create more housing for families and individuals.
She is not the only advocate, of course. Hamilton’s Affordable Housing Trust is ready to provide grant funding to help Harborlight build much-needed housing. But members of the Housing Trust have been confronted with neighborhood opposition that has forced delay after delay in actually doing anything. They have needed other residents to speak up for affordable housing, to outweigh the negative voices.
Miller has become one of those voices and is trying to recruit others to join the effort.
She got interested after volunteering at Harborlight House in Beverly, a home for the elderly that is managed by Harborlight Community Partners. While checking out the nonprofit’s website, she was appalled to learn about the continuing problems with building affordable housing in her own town. She emailed director Andrew DdFranza to ask how she could help, and since then she’s been doing her best.
The country has seen an inspiring wave of youth activism in Florida following the mass shootings at Stoneham Douglas High School in Parkland last month. Those students have spurred other teenagers throughout the country, and including on the North Shore, to advocate for gun controls and school safety measures. It remains to be seen how effective such youth-led movements will be, but there are certainly precedents, dating to the 1960s and the Vietnam War, for young people to help lead the way.
Miller’s quest is a more local one. No act of Congress is needed to build affordable housing; in Massachusetts, legislation (40B) is already on the books that would allow agencies like Harborlight to build without regard to local zoning or local opposition in towns, like Hamilton, that continue to rely on neighboring communities to house lower-income residents.
Harborlight has instead chosen to work with local officials and neighbors to try to build support for its projects. Miller should be commended for trying to help make that happen.