Keep Lodging Houses Legal

This Wednesday (11/29) at 2 p.m. the City Council will have a hearing on a zoning petition filed by some residents to ban new or expanded lodging houses in the residential districts where they are currently allowed. The petition appears to be motivated by a proposed new lodging house on Garden Street near Harvard Square.

What is a Lodging House? Why do they matter?

Lodging Houses or SROs (single-room occupancy) are residences where someone can rent a bedroom rather than a whole apartment. Some are also used as a form of student housing. While less well-known, lodging houses can help people transition out of homelessness to stable housing. They used to be common in cities, allowing many immigrants and newcomers to gain a foothold. Eventually, they were banned in many cities as part of exclusionary zoning.

We need to stop this anti-affordability ban from spreading to all of Cambridge!

Given our affordable housing crisis, we should be adding affordable housing options, not removing them. Instead of limiting housing types, particularly SROs, lodging houses, group homes, or other types that typically serve the most vulnerable populations in our city, we should reinvest in housing models that provide community-based, supportive, and stable housing. 

Lodging Houses play an important role despite being few in number

The City’s Community Development Department (CDD) raised several concerns with the proposed ban:

“Although they are small in number, it is important to consider the residential needs that are served by Lodging Houses, which can provide more economical or supportive housing options for different groups…the proposed zoning change could make many existing lodging houses non-conforming, including some operated by not-for-profit housing organizations, which would impact their ability to make modifications to their sites in the future. It is also possible that in the current housing market, lodging houses could serve a new function similar to their historic role as workforce housing for individuals or small households moving to Cambridge from elsewhere. These needs might be more difficult to meet if lodging houses are limited to non-residential districts.”

As Councillors Toomey, McGovern, and Siddiqui recognized back in 2018, "Single-Room Occupancies (SROs) are an essential component of the City’s affordable housing stock and these forms of housing are increasingly scarce," proposing that Cambridge’s Affordable Housing Trust should pursue purchases of single-family homes for conversion to SROs or co-ops.

While this petition to ban lodging houses may be partly designed to shield hotels from competition, the CDD notes that “the extent to which lodging houses truly compete…is unclear, given that they are very rare compared to dwellings that contain dwelling units”. Cambridge already has a Short-Term Rental Ordinance that limits Airbnbs.

Please tell City Council to reject this misguided attempt to ban lodging houses and further limit one of the few remaining affordable housing options in Cambridge. Email [email protected] cc: [email protected] and please bcc: [email protected].