NEWBURYPORT — An affordable rental can be tough to find for working families and residents in Greater Newburyport, but a public forum Tuesday will cover ways local residents can make a difference in reducing the problem of housing insecurity.
The free, public education session is the sixth in a series presented by Pennies for Poverty and the Housing Opportunities through Partnerships and Education group. It will be held from 7 to 8 p.m. at Central Congregational Church, 14 Titcomb St.
Those attending the session will hear from Kelly Turley, who leads advocacy work for the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless, and Ed Cameron, a Newburyport Zoning Board of Appeals member whose career has focused on addressing housing insecurity.
Cameron said the cost of rentals is high in Greater Newburyport, where high demand and low availability have driven prices out of the affordability range for average earners.
"It's a very tight housing market. There's not a lot of rentals out there, and the ones that are out there are expensive," Cameron said. "It's very difficult for middle-class working folks and those who work minimum wage jobs to find a rental in the area."
Cameron noted that one of the most common places where rentals are listed is Craigslist.com. Local listings suggest that only a small number of rentals are available in Greater Newburyport — and their rent prices might be out of reach for those on a tight monthly budget, he said.
But, as Cameron said, residents have a voice in the matter.
On Tuesday, Cameron and Turley will discuss ways that citizen advocacy can influence federal, state and local officials who make budget and policy decisions that can either help or hurt local efforts to address the shortage of affordable housing. Residents will learn how they can stay informed about key policy and budget issues, help people avoid homelessness, and support government decision-making by contacting legislators.
"People don't always know how to talk to state elected officials," Cameron said. "I've always heard that if a state representative or another elected official gets five phone calls, it's a big deal. You don't have to know the answers, but if you tell them you're concerned, it can help lead toward better policy."
Cameron also said the discussion will hone in on Newburyport, where rentals have grown more scarce in recent years.
"Generally, people aren't coming out to talk about housing, and we're encouraging people to come do that," he said. "In the last 15 years, we've lost 500 units that used to be rentals that were turned into condos or home ownership and because of that rental supply, everything is getting more expensive."
But with new developments on the horizon in some areas of the city, Cameron said the community may have a chance to open up more affordable rental units.
"We don't want to jam tight neighborhoods but there could be some limited opportunities in Newburyport," he said.
For more information on the forum, visit the event's Facebook page at www.facebook.com/events/1862793683780634/.
Staff writer Jack Shea covers Newburyport City Hall. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 978-961-3154. Follow him on Twitter @iamjackshea.