John Hanratty

What is your personal experience of housing in Cambridge and how has that affected your decision to run for city council? Do you rent or own? Have you ever lived in public or subsidized housing?

I rented for 17 years after college before I could afford to put an down payment on the condo where I live today in Cambridge. The price was about $200,000. In my 20’s, I had a couple years without a sufficient income, and had to rely on help from friends to have a place to stay. I remember looking in the window of a Red Lobster wondering how anyone could afford to go to restaurant. This experience stays with me to this day.

As City Councillor, what would be your top priorities to address our housing crisis?

Cambridge’s success in attracting good paying 45,000 jobs is the envy of the country. These jobs provide a considerable opportunity to residents of Cambridge and the region. The 2020 Census (from CDD site) says Cambridge has about 50,000 households. Cambridge is one of the US’s densest cities, so demand is very high and land expensive. The result is that long-time residents, working people, and low-income people cannot afford to live here. Our firefighters, teachers, nurses, and working professionals can’t live where they work. As pointed out in the question, this number is quite large.

We can not rely on one solution to address this problem. A combination of solutions is required to meet this problem. We cannot build our way out of this problem.

First, the unhoused presents an acute problem across the country and region. We as a city must work locally and regionally to address this problem. The homelessness problem requires a concentrated effort but is more complex than just the cost of housing. We must approach the causes with specifically targeted programs and accommodations to help these people in need. Addiction, mental health, and bad luck represent many of these. We must help these people.

Second, Cambridge is a congested and difficult-to-reach city. Many of those 45,000 people with good-paying jobs would prefer to live in towns with yards, open space, and less traffic. The problem is that commuting takes more than an hour each way. This circumstance causes them to look in Cambridge for housing. We could significantly reduce demand for housing by improving transportation to/from/within Cambridge. We can start by fixing congestion in Cambridge and then work regionally. This strategy could reduce housing demand by 10,000 or more.

Third, Cambridge needs a realistic plan for addressing low-income and working-class housing. (There are more delineations but not enough space to discuss here). Cambridge is recognized for one of the highest percentages of affordable housing in the US. I support continuing our effort with a balanced approach between working-class and low-income housing. We must also check our assumptions and realistically measure results. I have doubts that housing without parking or green space will be attractive to families, working-class, or low-income households. We should measure these assumptions to improve our offering.

Finally, we must act regionally. The demand for affordable housing in Cambridge will not diminish if we continue to build and no one else does. Or if Cambridge is unreachable from other affordable places in the region.

One solution will not fix the housing problem.

As Councillor, will you champion efforts to end exclusionary zoning in Cambridge by reforming the zoning code to allow, at minimum, four-story multi-family housing by right in all Cambridge neighborhoods?

Generally Yes. I agree that the city should update zoning rules to reflect the realities today. I agree that in many areas. I agree there are many areas of the city that could handle more density and should update their zoning to allow it. in general, I do not like “one size fits all” solutions that fail to take into account the particular circumstances in each neighborhood. A thoughtful update of zoning laws could significantly increase housing options.

I disagree with the terms “exclusionary zoning” and “weaponized zoning code.” The citizens of Cambridge generally support affordable housing efforts and accept that more density is inevitable. ABC’s goals would be better served treating citizens as partners rather than adversaries. Along with housing density, there is a very strong desire for green space and less congestion. I think people in affordable housing or not want a healthy and inviting neighborhood.

In conjunction with direct support for affordable housing and inclusionary zoning requirements, do you believe that new market-rate housing development is a key pillar in making Cambridge an affordable city?

Generally Yes. I agree that we need more market-rate housing. Aggressive building of affordable housing competes directly with market-rate housing for sites. Without market-rate housing, the middle class is further pushed out. As I understand, most affordable housing in Cambridge addresses people at or below 60% of the median income. Without market-rate development, the middle 60% to 130% of the median group gets squeezed (e.g., nurses, teachers, insurance salespeople). So, market-rate housing is a pillar.

The limiting factor is that Cambridge is dense, and there is a ceiling to this approach. If we intend to make Cambridge a city of skyscrapers, we cannot neglect the associated quality of life issues. This approach is a complicated question.

Do you believe Cambridge should go further to promote transit-oriented housing development, such as allowing greater height and density within walking distance of MBTA stations?

Generally Yes. I believe that areas around MTBA station could support density but not without considering the quality of life around the area. Well-planned density could enhance the community. The idea that people around MTBA stations don’t need green space, parking, or other forms of transportation is faulty. Tall buildings require a lot of infrastructure (e.g., sewage, electricity, transportation) to support them, so planning is needed and will not happen without planning.

Do you support the proposed Alewife overlay district?

Generally Yes

Do you support also rezoning the Fresh Pond shopping center?

Generally Yes. I don’t know enough about the details to comment.

Do you support the proposal to expand the Affordable Housing Overlay to allow more height for 100% affordable housing development in major squares (15 stories) and corridors (12 stories)?

No. Developments of this size require some planning and oversight. There are many factors that must be addressed in each case. I’m not against taller building but the ordinance is to broad.

Do you support further increasing city funding for affordable housing to 10% of the City budget?

Generally Yes. I would like to study the results so far to fully agree. Have we spent the money wisely, Did we attain the stated goals.

How can Cambridge better protect tenants against displacement?

I would rather see the city provide rent relief for hardship cases than force landlords to absorb months of missed rent payments. Most landlords are not wealth corporations or unfeeling people. If the don’t get paid, they can’t make their payments. Putting the burden on these landlords will act to reduce the rental stock. They will sell the units to people who will live there or require more background checks.

ABC has repeatedly supported state legislation enabling cities to better protect tenants. Do you support such legislation?

Generally Not

If something like it passed, what kind of city tenant protections would you favor? Would you support any kind of rent stabilization, such as the petition from Mayor Wu, which would cap rent increases at a maximum of 10% while exempting new construction, along with requiring just cause for eviction?

Rent control has proven time and again not to work.

Do you believe we have a climate obligation to pursue greater density city-wide and allow more people to live here?

Generally Not. I really don’t believe the research. I did a fellowship in clean energy and started two clean energy companies. I’ve studied carbon issues and I don’t see how density in any way reduces carbon.

Do you favor an at-large system over a ward-based system?

No. At large city councilors do not work well for citizens. There are nine councillors, not one returns your call as a voter or citizen. Since we voted them in, they should work for us. THEY DO NOT WORK FOR OR REPRESENT THE CITIZENS

The City Council is currently considering NCD reforms which would increase diversity on boards and commissions, amplify the voices of renters, exempt affordable housing, and enforce term limits. Do you believe these bodies need reform generally?

Generally Yes

Do you support the proposed NCD reforms specifically?

Generally Not. I haven’t read the explicit text in a while so I can’t cite specifics. (Your survey is very long, so I don’t have time to re-read it).

Would you support combining the City’s housing functions in a new Housing Department headed by a new Assistant City Manager, or is there an alternative approach to organization / staffing you would support? How specifically would you hold the City Manager and city staff accountable for meeting housing goals?

Some combination might make sense but from their titles they seem to be doing very different things.

Do you have anything else you’d like to highlight about your candidacy?