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.

What to say: Tuesday’s hearing in particular is focused on the 2016-2019 Envision Cambridge planning process, and how it can inform the conversation about exclusionary zoning. Fortunately, Envision’s final report has many relevant goals, comments, and recommended actions, such as:

  • Recommended actions to “allow multifamily residential development citywide” (p143), support “complementary infill development” in neighborhoods (p42), and “adjust zoning in residential districts to be more compatible with prevailing patterns of development” (p188)
  • Support for a diversity of types of housing, including both “family-sized housing units” as well as “studio and one-bedroom housing units” (p139), while noting that in general, “household sizes are small and declining” (p86)
  • Concern with the trend of Cambridge losing its middle class, and fear that it may come to be “dominated by a wealthy elite” (p86-87)
  • A strong, repeated recommendation to “lead the region to increase local and regional housing supply” (p140), “increase overall housing production” (p143), etc., with a specific target of 12,500 new housing units by 2030 "in order to mitigate cost increases driven by demand" (p152).

In general, there are many benefits to allowing more multi-family housing by ending exclusionary zoning, including:

  • Adding more housing, especially in Cambridge’s wealthiest neighborhoods. Adding housing not only increases access to the opportunities those neighborhoods offer, it also decreases displacement pressure on existing housing in Cambridge and the region, particularly in less-wealthy neighborhoods.
  • Creating less-expensive housing options that are within reach for middle-class households or for voucher holders. If properly allowed by zoning, the density offered by multi-family housing can create units that are much, much (think 2-3x) cheaper than detached houses or duplexes.
  • Promoting walkable, energy-efficient development. Cambridge is a highly walkable, bikeable, and transit-oriented city - not a single parcel of land is more than half a mile from a bus stop. Allowing more people to live in modern multi-family housing in Cambridge significantly decreases regional carbon emissions and increases foot traffic to local businesses.
  • Respecting the contextual fabric of neighborhoods by allowing buildings more like the triple-deckers and six-plexes we already have, instead of the suburban-style two-story detached houses that current zoning encourages.
  • Ending the unjust, unequal laws that historically had racist and classist intent, and today reinforce a “tale of two cities” between the western and eastern halves of Cambridge.

(Source: CDD’s presentation from the previous hearing)

For more information, see our new issue page on ending exclusionary zoning. And please don’t hesitate to reply to [email protected] with any questions or if you’d like to get more involved.

P.S. Save the date - on Wednesday, January 26 at 6:00pm, we will be having a “status update” meeting to hang out, talk about the projects we’re working on (there’s a lot!), and answer any questions you might have about them. Register here!