A Better Cambridge Calls on the City to Create 8,500 Units of Housing Before 2030

Cambridge stands at a crossroads. Both people and industry find Cambridge increasingly attractive. Our economy booms, yet we suffer from an acute housing shortage. We can either seize potential opportunities to ensure the diversity, vibrancy, and values that make our city so special, or we can squander these opportunities and lose the best of our city.  We believe that time is of the essence, and for that reason we call on the City Council to take concrete action on the following items before this November’s election:

  • Respond to the housing crisis directly though increased density – taller buildings and increased floor area ratios – at major transportation hubs and along major corridors in order to allow the creation of 8,500 new housing units over the next 15 years. This includes approving the “Mass & Main” mixed-income zoning with the maximum number of affordable units possible

  • For the rest of Central Square, at a minimum pass the zoning recommendations offered by the Central Square Advisory Committee, recommendations the Council itself requested

  • Increase linkage fees and the inclusionary zoning of affordable housing, in order to both create and support more affordable units
  • Reduce or eliminate parking minimums from the zoning code, at the very least around transportation hubs

  • Use every means of influence the City has to increase the amount of housing universities build on their campuses in order to reduce the pressure on the Cambridge housing market

In order to reach the target specified in an analysis of regional housing need by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC), we believe that Cambridge must add approximately 8,500 housing units in the next 15 years.* Based on an analysis of census data, we believe that maintaining diversity requires that at least 20% of the units be affordable to low-, moderate-, and middle-income families.

 

Density Reduces Families’ Transportation Costs

As a first step Cambridge must seek increased density around transit hubs, especially the Red Line, and along already established commercial areas, primarily Massachusetts Avenue. The city-owned parking lots in Central Square, as well as underutilized land there and in Kendall Square are prime candidates for this necessary development.

Seeking denser development near transit places residents closer to jobs and makes access to other areas of Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville easier. This is a central tool in reducing the overall cost of living and  dependency on cars. Fewer people living in areas well served by public transit means more people further away from job and commercial centers, encouraging driving, raising the cost of living, increasing road congestion, and furthering suburban sprawl. Eliminating minimum parking around transit nodes not only discourages car use, but reduces construction costs.

 

Density Creates More Affordable Housing

Increased density must serve a variety of income levels and family sizes through inclusionary zoning and negotiations with developers. To the extent that zoning overly restricts the amount of housing that can be built, by means of either height restrictions or limits to floor areas, it provides incentives to developers to maximize profits through building only luxury residences or lab/office space.

Parts of Cambridge are generating astounding new wealth. It’s simply not acceptable, in a community of such resources, to have to fight to maintain its existing stock of low income and affordable housing. Cambridge must not just stem the flight of individuals and families priced out of the community; it must create housing stock that helps restore the income diversity we enjoyed a decade ago.

While we support the efforts to maximize the construction and acquisition of additional affordable housing using city, state and federal funding, we believe that using the forces of private development is the quickest means to add the most affordable units to our housing stock in the most cost effective manner, particularly in the current economic climate. While Cambridge might have the means to develop its own affordable units, the costs and the lengthy processes place extreme constraints on how much and how soon housing could be built. The proven practice of using private development to subsidize affordability through inclusionary zoning is the quickest path to create new affordable housing and adds critically important additional units to meet this pressing need.

Increased density is not building for building’s sake. It’s purpose is to ensure a vibrant, diverse, and sustainable community. Great industrial cities have always served this purpose, providing homes and jobs to diverse populations. As Cambridge enters its new industrial age, it has the opportunity to show what it means to be a prosperous, progressive city. It can either be a city that’s content to bask in its own wealth, or one that seizes this moment and helps forge an inclusive future for current residents and the next generation.

 

Updated 3/5/2015 to clarify that the estimate of added housing construction is based on an ABC analysis of MAPC data, and not taken directly from MAPC.

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