This Thursday is Cambridge’s annual September Displacement Ritual – when many people are moving in, out and sideways, and rent hikes are felt throughout the city. It’s a reminder that every year we fail to act on housing, the damage to our community gets worse.
Whether you’ve managed to stay for another year or whether you’ve been pushed out to Somerville or beyond, we hope you can join us for our next social gathering, outdoors at Fresh Pond Beer Garden (next to Fresh Pond Mall) on Tuesday, September 6, 7:30pm – 10pm. We’ll be joined by friends from Abundant Housing Massachusetts as we chat about the state primary election, housing progress in Cambridge, and more.
The following week, ABC will present an online Housing Crisis Town Hall with 6 City Councilors, who will discuss their efforts to make housing more available and affordable to all. Sign up on Zoom to hear the discussion on Wednesday, September 14, from 7pm to 9pm and suggest topics or questions for the Councilors in advance.
Cambridge zoning updates…
- Planning Board members recently discussed the City Council's proposal to remove costly parking requirements (currently one space as a mandatory feature of every single new housing unit!), but unfortunately couldn't quite get their heads around it (see notes from an ABC member here). Some seemed not to know that Cambridge is among the large cities with the lowest rates of car ownership, or that car ownership is less prevalent among low income households, or that building parking can add about 17% to rents. The members who were present voted unanimously to send an unfavorable recommendation on the plan back to the Council, who will continue discussing it in the Ordinance Committee on September 21.
- The final state-level compliance guidelines (summary presentation here) have just been released for the 2021 law establishing Multifamily Zoning Requirements for MBTA Communities, with some easing of the rules for some suburban communities in response to complaints. Cambridge is required to submit an Action Plan for compliance by January 31st. The MBTA Communities requirements may add new urgency - but also new complexity - to the City’s stated goal of ending exclusionary zoning, which (after some back-and-forth with the Planning Board) has its next go-round scheduled for a 3pm Housing Committee hearing on September 13.
- The last Ordinance Committee attempt to enact a significant increase in the linkage fee paid by commercial developments to fund affordable housing wound up raising more questions than it answered. Ordinance will be back for another round on September 7 at 3pm, when additional public comment will be heard.
- Alewife Zoning Working Group recognized the need for housing at their meeting on August 10, resulting in a welcome change in direction. Concerningly, the City presentation (page 11) reflected a proposal to decrease the amount of housing planned relative to current zoning, but working group members and public commenters expressed a clear consensus that the opposite is necessary. They supported substantially increasing the allowed residential height and density in order to prioritize housing over commercial development.
…and national context
- “Will the cost of housing tank the Massachusetts economy?” asks a recent Boston Globe article, providing lots of examples -- from the departing Superintendent of Schools in Provincetown to teachers, firefighters, lab managers, engineers, nurses, “and pretty much every other profession you can imagine” -- indicating we may well be on that path. And we’re not alone: the NY Times reports on similar cases elsewhere, emphasizing the personal as well as the economic costs of America’s housing shortage. The self-inflicted costs of exclusionary, hyper-local housing policies based on neighborhood aesthetics and “character” are becoming more clear, and less defensible.
- A Newsweek opinion piece on the growing popularity of social housing touts recent state legislation in Hawaii, inspired by examples in Singapore and Vienna. Greater political feasibility of social housing is credited to its looser or absent income restrictions and the fact that direct state development defuses the “no profit to developers” issue.
- An exhibit inspired by Matthew Desmond’s Pulitzer Prize book Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City runs at Arts at the Armory in Somerville from September 10 through November 4. Drawing on data developed by Princeton’s Eviction Lab, the immersive exhibit examines the reasons for and consequences of the millions of American evictions every year.
(Sent Aug 29, 2022.)