ABC News, Apr 2022: New affordable housing, zoning resources, volunteer and social opportunities, and more

(Sent on April 26, 2022.)

We need your support for the newest Affordable Housing Overlay project tonightTONIGHT!, (April 26) at 6pm. Cambridge Housing Authority is holding a second community meeting about renovation and additions at its current SRO (single room occupancy) building at 116 Norfolk Street. The 38 existing rooms for seniors and people with disabilities will be upgraded to full studio apartments, gaining private kitchens and showers. An additional wing with 24 studio apartments will house formerly unhoused individuals, with targeted services available onsite. Despite these improvements to a 100% affordable housing building and development of new much-needed housing, some nearby residents have been organizing in opposition.

Thanks to all who attended Zoned Out: how zoning laws shape our city, ABC’s virtual event on land use regulation. The slides with speaker notes and a brief list of sources and additional readings (including articles, books and a couple of short videos) are now available and are a great starting point for anyone who wants to learn what zoning is about

Housing in Cambridge

Lesley University has announced the sale of a building on Mass. Ave. for conversion to affordable housing. The city’s Affordable Housing Trust will finance the purchase of the former Lesley Admissions/Visitor Center by Homeowner’s Rehab Inc. (HRI), a local affordable housing nonprofit. The 1862 structure – originally the home of Cambridge Mayor Charles Saunders – will return to its residential roots, with additional apartments added on the rear of the lot.

  • ABC member Justin Saif has published an op-ed urging the City Council to embrace the spirit of the state’s new “MBTA Communities” regulations requiring more multi-family-friendly zoning in areas near transit. He calls on Cambridge to be “the strongest possible example for other MBTA communities to follow” by “setting a fair and reasonable citywide standard [and] increasing our MBTA-adjacent housing.” (See below for other reactions to this law).
  • The Harvard Crimson has an excellent report on the unanimous vote by the Council’s Transportation and Public Utility Committee recommending  “eliminat[ion of] minimum requirements for off-street parking spaces for new developments.” The Ordinance Committee and the full Council will need to take additional steps before this beneficial zoning change can be enacted. 

Housing elsewhere

  • A strong zoning reform in San Diego is showing promising results after less than a year and a half. The Complete Communities program allows smaller units and greater height near public transit in developments where the percentage of units with restricted rents (affordable by lower income households) is greater than otherwise required. The rapid results stem from a streamlined approval process for Complete Communities projects.
  • On the West Coast, some town officials are outdoing their Massachusetts counterparts – at least in creativity – in their attempts to evade a 90-day-old California state law permitting duplexes (and some fourplexes) statewide. A rash of local zoning amendments include a maximum apartment size that’s the same as the minimum size (800 sq ft), a 30-year cap on tenant incomes and rents, and a rule that new tenants cannot own a vehicle. The town of Woodland – with a median home price of $4.5 million – tried to exempt all their land as a habitat for mountain lions, a potentially endangered species. Woodland has already backed down after a warning from the state Attorney General. California officials promise that enforcement will continue.
  • In a provocative new piece in The Atlantic, Jerusalem Demsas takes on the American “community input” process that too often gives unrepresentative self-appointed “neighborhood defenders” a local veto over regionally needed land uses. She calls for “moving decision making from the hyperlocal level to the state level”, noting that “the political coalition broadly in favor of new housing, transit, and renewable energy exists, but not at the project-by-project level”. 

ABC activities

  • On April 12, the City Council held a committee hearing regarding the selection process for nominees to city boards and commissions, resulting in a policy order asking for certain reforms. ABC sent a statement for that hearing, with suggestions for making sure our land use boards “include voices who experience, understand, and care about the housing crisis.”
  • Hope to see you Saturday, May 14 (2:00-4:00pm), for our walking tour of East Cambridge, a look at the present and history of housing in the neighborhood. Details and sign-up here.