Tackling Housing Unaffordability in Cambridge

Tackling Housing Unaffordability in Cambridge (Published in Banker & Tradesman on March 27th, 2022.) The housing crisis in Cambridge has been worsening for decades now. With the highest rents in the entire state, there’s no end in sight for growing unaffordability. Decades of underbuilding housing and underinvesting in affordable housing have led to overcrowding, displacement, and skyrocketing costs. The human costs of this crisis are severe and multifaceted. Whether you’re one of the 21,000 families on Cambridge Housing Authority waitlists, a renter desperate to hold onto tenuous, low-quality housing in a market where landlords hold all the cards, a local graduate or would-be immigrant or refugee turned away by high costs, or simply experiencing fraying community bonds as more and more long-time neighbors move out, you know the severe and multi-faceted harms of this crisis on an economic and a human level. Continue reading

DOUBLE ACTION ALERT: Support multi-family and affordable housing this week

(Sent Sunday, March 13, 2022.) This week, there will be two public meetings about new pro-housing policies - one on ending exclusionary zoning, and one on more funding for affordable housing. See below for details. Your support can help make a difference. Please email the City Council and the Planning Board to share your perspective! Continue reading

ABC News, Feb 2022: New affordable housing, letters to the editor, and more

(Sent on February 24th, 2022.) Cambridge Housing Authority’s plan for rebuilding and increasing the public housing at Jefferson Park Federal has been praised by the Planning Board and is on its way to a building permit. CHA recently proposed more affordable housing at 116 Norfolk Street, which now contains 37 single-room-occupancy units. The city’s 5th AHO project will convert the existing units to studio apartments and add similar units in a rear addition for those now unhoused, for up to 62 units total. Anonymous opposition flyers are already being distributed around the neighborhood. Relatedly, even tenants who have Section 8 certificates find many vacant apartments closed to them. CHA, which administers the S8 rent-subsidy program, reports that few tenants are able to rent from small local landlords, despite a state law prohibiting discrimination against subsidized tenants. As a result, low-income households become concentrated in a small number of large buildings in few neighborhoods. A recent JCHS study finds that economic segregation of renters is increasing nationwide, noting that “as low-cost units become increasingly scarce, low- and moderate-income renters are losing access to many neighborhoods.”  ABC members wrote two outstanding letters to the editor this month, keeping the spotlight on vital housing issues in the Cambridge Chronicle. Danny Hidalgo called out the Planning Board’s apparent lack of understanding of the housing crisis and its effects on the poor, while Neil Miller illustrated the consequences of our outdated zoning with a report on a recently-demolished corner store near his apartment. Have something you would like to tell Cambridge about? Writing a letter to the editor is a great way to do it! Continue reading

ACTION ALERT: Help Cambridge hire a progressive, pro-housing city manager

(Sent Sunday, February 13th, 2022.) In Cambridge’s Plan E system of government, the City Manager is the most powerful office. They are hired by the City Council and, with their direction, run the entire executive branch of government; including proposing the budget, nominees to boards and commissions, and other key decisions that guide our City. Cambridge is hiring a new City Manager this spring, and the results of the hiring process will have a profound impact on the direction of the City for many years. A Better Cambridge has released a letter detailing what we want to see from the hiring process and the next city manager, including: Continue reading

Cambridge City Manager Search Letter

(To add your name to this letter, click here!) Members of the Council and consultant Randi Frank, A Better Cambridge is an all-volunteer group committed to creating a more affordable, diverse, sustainable, and vibrant Cambridge. We see this year’s City Manager search as a vital opportunity for the city. Each of the Manager’s core responsibilities have a profound impact on ABC’s core values of housing abundance, affordability, stability, and sustainability. For example: Continue reading

Ending parking mandates in Cambridge

(Sent Sunday, February 6th, 2022.) We’re thrilled to let you know that on Monday’s City Council agenda, a policy order has been filed by Councillor Azeem (and co-sponsored by Councillors Zondervan and McGovern) to remove minimum off-street parking requirements for new developments! Continue reading

ABC News, Jan 2022: State legislative updates, “free” parking, and more

(Sent on Sunday, Jan 23.) Please join ABC members for a status update this Wednesday (Jan 26) at 6:00pm. We’ll explain what's been going on lately at the City Council, talk about what ABC is organizing, and answer any questions anyone might have about ABC or current policy discussions. It’s open to the public, so please send the registration link to friends after you’ve signed up yourself! The ABC Book Group will discuss the first half of Donald Shoup’s The High Cost of Free Parking at 1:00pm on Saturday, February 26, at Darwin’s on Cambridge Street. Shoup knows more about parking and its effect on cities than just about anyone, and he can write, too! (“Minimum parking requirements act like a fertility drug for cars.”) For more information, please contact PJ Santos. Continue reading

ACTION ALERT: Support multi-family housing at Tuesday’s Planning Board meeting

On Tuesday (Jan 18) at 6:30pm, the Cambridge Planning Board will hold its second in a series of discussions about allowing multi-family housing to be built citywide. These discussions are intended to help provide “concepts and options” for the City Council’s future consideration. Unfortunately, the previous discussion didn’t get very far, as many Planning Board members are still uninformed about the goals and benefits of fixing Cambridge’s broken neighborhood zoning. One member even fear-mongered about losing the “diversity” of Brattle St. You can help keep the Planning Board on track by writing an email to [email protected] stating your support for zoning to allow multi-family housing in every neighborhood of Cambridge, and the goals you hope it can accomplish (see below). Emails need to be received by 5:00pm on Monday, January 17. CC’ing the City Council at [email protected] and [email protected] will give your email extra impact. We do not know if the Planning Board plans to accept live public comment at Tuesday’s hearing (last time, they accepted it only at the end after Board discussion), but if you are available Tuesday evening, your participation in the Zoom webinar will also be helpful. Continue reading

ABC Support for Tenant Protection Legislation

Statement on Tenant Protection Legislation Before the Joint Committee on Housing January 11, 2022 Chairman Keenan, Chairman Arciero, members of the Committee, I am submitting this statement in support of the Tenant Protection Act (H.1378) on behalf of A Better Cambridge (ABC). ABC is a Cambridge-based all-volunteer organization working to solve our local housing affordability crisis. This solution must involve producing more housing, especially affordable housing, in Cambridge and elsewhere to meet the critical regional demand. It also requires protecting tenants from the immediate effects of this crisis; today, extreme winter conditions and two years of a global pandemic highlight the persistent gaps in our housing system. All options to create more housing equity in our Commonwealth must be considered. Continue reading

ABC News, Dec 2021: Planning Board roundtable, Events Committee, New Zealand reforms, and more

Next Tuesday, January 4, there will be a Planning Board discussion on concepts for ending exclusionary zoning in residential districts and allowing multifamily structures by-right. Unlike previous discussions, this one is not centered around a specific proposal like the recent Missing Middle Housing petition; instead, CDD’s presentation will include background information (slides 1-26) and a menu of possible approaches (slides 28-35). While the planned CDD presentation is thorough, two concerns have stuck out to ABC members. One is a focus on the residence A-1, A-2, and B districts, which underplays the problems even with existing C and C-1 districts. Another is a lack of urgency about why ending exclusionary zoning is important and why the Planning Board should go bold. You can help provide that context by email until 5:00pm the day before (Monday, January 3) or live via Zoom at the Board’s public hearing. While the Board meeting begins at 6:30pm, the discussion will be the fifth item on the agenda, so you may have to wait awhile for it. Continue reading