ABC News, May 2024 🏘️ ABC hosts author Richard Kahlenberg to discuss “snob zoning”

It’s shaping up to be a busy summer for housing. The Housing Committee is pushing to legalize 6-story multi-family buildings city-wide, and ABC is hosting Richard Kahlenberg, one of the leading advocates for economic integration in K-12 schooling, to discuss why that’s so important. (By the way, now is a great time to let the City Council know you support multi-family zoning reform!)

Register to hear Richard Kahlenberg discuss “Snob Zoning”

Tuesday, June 11, 7-8 pm As Cambridge tackles zoning changes that would eliminate single-family-only neighborhoods and allow multi-family housing to be built city-wide, what better time to hear Richard D. Kahlenberg discuss his recent book Excluded: How Snob Zoning, NIMBYism, and Class Bias Build the Walls We Don't See. Register for the Zoom meeting here, and please suggest any questions to ask in the event here.

Cambridge Happenings

A “Groundbreaking” Proposal - Cambridge took big steps forward in the past two weeks when the Housing Committee and City Council both voted in support of allowing multi-family housing citywide. Councillors McGovern, Azeem, Wilson, and Siddiqui sponsored the City Council proposal, which calls for zoning in every part of Cambridge to permit housing up to six stories high (an optimal level for development where efficiencies of scale are not outweighed by triggering high-rise building code). The proposal notes the history of exclusionary zoning is one of racism and classism, and the best way to undo these injustices is to do away with the very zoning regime that perpetuated them. Six-story, citywide housing does just that, though it won’t happen overnight. If passed, the proposal would increase Cambridge’s housing supply and allow more people from all walks of life to call Cambridge home - and do so more affordably. 

Meanwhile, a rival citizen zoning petition (the “Ronayne petition”) would legalize multi-family housing in name but without major changes to dimensional standards, rendering significant new housing production unlikely.

As the Globe notes, allowing 6-story multi-family citywide would also make Cambridge a national leader in housing reform. Portland, Oregon, allows multi-family housing citywide but has a lower cap on stories. It would be a “game changer,” as Councillor Azeem puts it. 

And, of course, opponents are already circling their wagons. We need your support—from speaking at council meetings to emailing the council to talking with your neighbors—every bit counts. This fight will be tough, but making Cambridge a model for the country and a more just and welcoming place to live will be worth it.

The conversation continues on municipal vouchers - A petition to use Affordable Housing Trust funds for rental vouchers faces hurdles. As reported in the Day, the AHT considered a petition allowing the Trust to use funds for local rent vouchers, individual housing units, and supportive services for the homeless while expanding the Trust’s Board to 13 members from nine. However, the legal framework for the Trust may require a Home Rule petition for some of these changes, and Trust members preferred to continue focusing on capital needs (i.e., construction and preservation). In the words of one member, “We should have vouchers; the trust should not fund them.” 

ABC is working with the City and local stakeholders to develop a feasible proposal to create deeper affordability for Cambridge residents. Stay tuned for upcoming council meetings to discuss options.

AHO in Action at 35 Cherry St. In 2013, MIT gave the City of Cambridge a property at 35 Cherry Street–for free. But the lot has sat vacant for the past decade. Now, a 100% affordable housing development is taking shape. Non-profit affordable home builder Just-a-Start hosted a community meeting this month to review the project's details under the Affordable Housing Overlay. 35 Cherry is an excellent example of what’s possible with zoning reform. Had the AHO not streamlined the approval process for affordable housing, something like this might not have been possible due to the challenges uncertainty poses to funding or might have been considerably delayed by the variance process and lawsuits.


Learn, Socialize, Take Action: Upcoming ABC events you can join

AHMA Lobby Day - May 29 - Join Abundant Housing Massachusetts (AHMA) on May 29th for the first annual AHMA Lobby Day: Building a Massachusetts for Everyone. Fill the steps of Beacon Hill with pro-housing advocates, engage in some legislative advocacy, and listen to leaders in the pro-housing movement. Speakers include: Lt. Governor Kim Driscoll, Housing Secretary Ed Agustus, Senator Brendan P. Crighton, and ABC’s co-chair Becca Schofield! Sign up here.

ABC Social - Wednesday, May 29, 6-8pm Join pro-housing friends for our monthly social, outside (weather permitting) at the Phoenix Landing in Central Square. Hear how our Beacon Hill lobbying efforts went and catch up on all the local news and gossip.

Newton Housing Event - May 30. Experts will discuss the effect of new development on school budgets. See “Regional and National Happenings” below for details.

Neighborhood Walk - Saturday, June 8, 3-5pm Don’t miss another in a series of neighborhood walks hosted by ABC members, where we walk the streets and discuss the history of the built environment. This time, we’ll stroll through the neighborhood along Mass Ave between Harvard and Porter Squares, currently under study by a working group. Details to come. 

River Fest Table - Get the word out and talk to neighbors about ending exclusionary zoning by tabling at the Cambridge River Festival on Saturday, June 15, 11am-6pm. If you are interested in taking a shift, email Cathy Higgins, and please stop by and say hi!

Book Club - July 13, 3-4pm - Does the history of the triple-decker (and other iconic multi-family architecture) excite you? Join Somerville YIMBY and ABC in reading Max Podemski’s A Paradise of Small Houses: The Evolution, Devolution, and Potential Rebirth of Urban Housing. The event will take place at Portico Brewing in Somerville.

  • From the publisher: “The Philadelphia row house. The New York tenement. The Boston triple-decker. Every American city has its own iconic housing style… Deftly combining his years of experience with extensive research, Podemski walks the reader through the history of our dwelling spaces—and offers a blueprint for how time-tested urban planning models can help us build the homes the United States so desperately needs.”

Regional and National Happenings

Newton Housing Event - May 30th. Newton for Everyone, a pro-housing group across the Charles, is hosting a discussion called “Can new development help school budgets in cities like Newton?”. The event will focus on the connection between housing supply and the municipal tax base, particularly for school funding.

Most school funds come from local property taxes. Despite NIMBY rhetoric that increasing the housing supply will “overcrowd” schools, the opposite can happen - more dense housing development bolsters the tax base, with new residents contributing more than they require in services. And when housing is restricted, school-age populations dwindle, and schools suffer from under-enrollment and face tough budget cuts. 

This will be a live event at Congregation Dorshei Tzedek/Second Church, 60 Highland St, West Newton (and streamed via Zoom). The speaker list includes Elise Rapoza, MassINC’s senior research associate and author of “New Housing Production in Massachusetts: Fiscal Dynamics and Community Implications”; and Luc Shuster, executive director of Boston Indicators (the organization behind Upzone Update

Registration links here (in person) and here (Zoom). 

Not in My Marsh - Voters in Marshfield chose not to comply with the MBTA Communities Act in a late April special town meeting, rejecting zoning changes 169-289. However, Attorney General Andrea Campbell took a more conciliatory tone with the South Shore town than with Milton, saying she hopes Marshfield will consider another compliant zoning ordinance. Like a few other towns that voted down zoning reform, Marshfield is an MBTA-C “adjacent” community, so its compliance deadline is not until the end of this year. Milton, a “rapid transit” community, already missed its 2023 deadline and now faces a lawsuit in the Supreme Judicial Court to force compliance. Cambridge is still waiting for the state to finish reviewing Cambridge’s submission, including its report showing the challenges inclusionary zoning poses to new multifamily housing. 

Ms. Brightside - Judi Barrett, owner and manager of Barrett Planning Group, highlighted the progress made in zoning reform in most MBTA communities.  Her LinkedIn post demonstrates that while non-compliant “red” towns like Milton get all the press (who doesn’t like a fight?), most of eastern Massachusetts is a sea of compliant green.  

The Outcomes Don’t Match the Intentions - A great episode of the Ezra Klein show focuses on the tension between progressive political intentions and outcomes in “blue” regions. Jerusalem Demsas, contributor at The Atlantic who has written some of the best housing coverage in recent years, joins Ezra to discuss how things like low local voter turnout and the legacy of bureaucratic and procedural creep have led to “Liberalism’s failure to build,” including a $1.7 million toilet in San Francisco. They note how the tide has begun to shift on housing only because of massive grassroots activism - but there are still obstacles in the form of misused environmental reviews and zoning laws. 

Surprisingly - perhaps - red states may have been better able to tackle the housing crisis because they generally have less burdensome permitting processes. Spotify link here. Jerusalem has an essay collection coming this September that will be required reading for anyone involved in the housing crisis (so, everyone). 

Polluting Our Backyards - In The Economist, a recent article discussed how NIMBYs increase carbon emissions. It’s the common story of how preventing dense development and building taller causes us to build out - sprawl - destroying wildlands and increasing reliance on carbon-spewing automobiles.

To most NIMBYs, the residents who are prevented from living in new housing are an afterthought. Yet wherever else they live, they still have a carbon footprint, which would be lower if they could move to a city. Density lowers the per-person cost of public transport, and this reduces car use. It also means that more land elsewhere can be given over to nature.”

It’s the Housing Supply, Stupid - The Federal Reserve is banking on a slowdown in housing costs to help it achieve the elusive “soft landing” of manageable inflation coupled with job growth. One problem: housing costs aren’t slowing down. The solution might involve more than interest rates.