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understanding of the housing crisis and its effects on the poor, while Neil Miller illustrated the consequences of our outdated zoning with a report on a recently-demolished corner store near his apartment.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!

In other news…

  • The City Council is considering eliminating minimum parking mandates from our zoning code. (Parking expert Donald Shoup has long criticized such mandates as “clumsy, inefficient, redundant, hard to understand, and expensive to maintain.”)  The proposal was delayed at its debut meeting a few weeks ago but it’ll return on February 28, probably to be referred to the Transportation Committee.
  • The first phase of the search for a new City Manager is proceeding with a welcome degree of openness and public input. If you missed last week’s virtual town hall for residents, you can submit your thoughts here through Sunday (February 27). ABC has sent to the Council a statement of goals for selecting the next Manager, who will be chosen by mid-year. Several focus groups have taken place to provide input from various segments of the community – including affordable housing tenants and providers.
  • Diagnoses and prescriptions for America’s multiple housing crises are described in Brookings economist Jenny Schuetz’s new book, Fixer-Upper: How to Repair America’s Broken Housing Systems. Reviewing the differences between (and sometimes within) Federal, state and local policies, she illuminates “the fundamentally unequal nature of the nation’s housing systems,” noting that “financially well-off Americans can afford comfortable, stable homes in desirable communities. Millions of other Americans cannot”.