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Why do you want more housing to be built?
Simply put, we don’t have enough of it. Cambridge attracts folks from around the world with its walkability, culture, diversity, people, history, world-class schools, and jobs. They’re coming here, but not enough homes are being built to accommodate them. This drives up costs and threatens the diversity that makes Cambridge special.
Why do you need to organize to build more housing?
Our lack of housing is in large part due to the actions of anti-housing folks who, through the years, have pressured our political leaders to pass laws that make it difficult to build homes. Through organizing, we are putting counter-pressure on our City Councillors to pass laws that will help get housing built and protect tenants. When people join our fight it sends a message that they are demanding more housing and tenant protections.
Do you support tenant protections?
Yes. The housing crisis cannot be solved just by building more homes. They can’t be built fast enough to protect renters from displacement and soaring rents. A cap on rent increases, just-cause eviction, and right to counsel would go a long way toward protecting vulnerable renters.
Can Cambridge fit more people?
We have plenty of room for more neighbors. Fewer people live here now than did at our peak population in 1950. Our population density of 17,000 people per square mile is relatively high, but is low compared to many of the world’s great cities, like Paris, and many of the people who live here are concentrated in certain neighborhoods, like Cambridgeport, East Cambridge, and Wellington-Harrington. Other parts of the city, like along North Mass Ave, are underbuilt.
What is the environmental impact of more people living in Cambridge?
It has a positive impact, and is an essential part of the fight against climate change. Studies have repeatedly shown that per capita carbon emissions are much lower in cities than they are in more sparsely populated areas. In cities, people drive less, walk, take public transportation, and ride bikes. Energy is used more efficiently, because people live in smaller spaces, and in multi-unit housing, heat can be shared.
What types of homes do you want built?
All types of homes! We want to see more market-rate, affordable, and public housing built.
Wait, can you tell me more about what these terms mean?
Market-rate housing is privately owned and where most people live. Owners can either rent their property to tenants for as much money as they think someone will pay or try to sell it for as much as someone will pay. Public housing, such as Roosevelt Towers and Newtowne Court, is owned and operated by the government, whereas affordable housing is owned and operated by nonprofits such as Just-a-Start and Homeowners Rehab. Rents are much lower in public and affordable housing.
Would building just affordable housing solve the crisis?
We have strongly advocated for more affordable housing in Cambridge, and hope to see the Affordable Housing Overlay passed during this City Council Term to make it easier for developers to build more affordable housing. However, the funding for these types of housing is limited, so we need to rely on the market to produce the abundant number of homes necessary to reduce our acute shortage. Rising land values and construction costs have made reliance on the market especially necessary.
But isn’t market-rate housing just luxury housing for rich people?
Although new market-rate housing is expensive and the people who live there tend to make high wages, it must be part of the solution. It reduces pressure on existing home prices because instead of bidding up rents on older homes, highly paid folks move into the new homes. If we don’t allow construction of new luxury housing, existing housing will be converted into shiny, expensive homes. There is a demand for this type of housing, and developers will find a way to satisfy that, whether we allow new homes or not. Building new homes makes it less likely that cheaper housing will be renovated and less likely that middle income tenants will be displaced.
What should be done to encourage housing construction?
One thing is upzoning, which allows more housing to be built in a given location. Market Central, a 19-story, 195-foot, 308-unit apartment building in Central Square is an example of an upzoning we supported. Before the upzoning was passed, a building of more than 80 feet could not have been built in that location. The Affordable Housing Overlay is an upzoning we support that would allow affordable housing developments to be a little taller and have more living units than would otherwise be allowed. Another example is allowing triple deckers to be built citywide.
Wait, what? Triple deckers aren’t allowed to be built in Cambridge?
Nope. Although the triple decker is one of the most recognizable forms of housing in Cambridge and throughout the region, current zoning does not allow them to be built in many parts of Cambridge. In fact, about 80 percent of Cambridge’s housing could not be built today, including most of the duplexes and apartment buildings that help make our city the wonderful place we love.
What will it take to get more housing built and tenant protections passed?
Activism! Many people in Cambridge don’t want to see a change to the status quo because it’s working extremely well for them. They’ve seen their property values soar and they like their neighborhoods just the way they are. But through activism, we can make sure our elected leaders know they have a responsibility to take action on the housing crisis. We hope you’ll join us!