ABC News, Mar 2023 🏘️ Housing Social, action and inaction on zoning, homes for seniors, and more


Cambridge Housing…

  • Two hearings on improvements to the Affordable Housing Overlay were held last month. The Housing Committee, chaired by Councilor Simmons, heard about the need for the amendments from representatives of the Cambridge Housing Authority and other not-for-profit housing builders, who will be invited back to a yet-to-be-scheduled follow-up meeting to answer additional questions. Councilor Carlone later chaired a contentious hearing at the Neighborhood and Long Term Planning Committee, with 63 residents commenting. Slides from the presentation by three of the Councilors sponsoring the proposal are here. The chair granted himself equal time for a solo rebuttal; slides here. No NLTP follow-up meeting is apparently planned. 
  • A set of zoning amendments drafted by Charles Franklin was filed with the Council on March 20 and referred to the Ordinance Committee and Planning Board. The proposal has a stated goal of legalizing a substantial majority of our present housing, a result of much tightening of the zoning laws in past decades. It contains a number of provisions, but in Cambridge's most exclusionary Residence A districts, it would continue to disallow small apartment buildings, making it less ambitious than ABC's 2022 Missing Middle Housing plan, or even (potentially) whatever plan may eventually result from the Council’s discussion about ending exclusionary 1- and 2-family-only zoning restrictions. The latter process began early in 2021; the most recent public activity was an inconclusive Planning Board meeting over 6 months ago.   
  • A zoning amendment proposed by developer/attorney Patrick Barrett may be on the Council’s agenda for its meeting on April 3, the date it will otherwise expire. The proposal would define an entirely new zoning category which would apply only to a two-block/two-lot area near the intersection of Cedar Street and Mass Ave in North Cambridge. It would allow increased height and density for housing only (not for commercial or other uses) and would facilitate (but not guarantee) a plan by Barrett et al. to build 60 condos in this area, including 12 much-needed affordable ownership units. 
  • The Community Development Department has posted a series of interactive graphs that outline the alarming impact of the housing shortage in Cambridge. The dashboard on Housing Cost Burden and Affordability tracks data by household race/ethnicity, for renting and owning households, for 2006-2019. The Rental Listing Cost and Affordability Monitor shows quarterly data on availability of market-rate, non-university apartments by neighborhood, for households of various sizes and incomes, for 2018-2022. Together, they provide a sobering measure of the burden of our housing regulations, and where and on whom that burden falls.

News and reports…

  • We see the tumbling, crumbling downfall of our housing,” Pastor Lydia Shiu of North Cambridge’s Reservoir Church told the crowd at an energetic rally in front of the State House. “Why, in our great nation, … are we seeing so many struggling on the streets, struggling to pay rent, struggling to buy a home? This is not just a housing crisis. It’s a human crisis.” The rally, organized by Greater Boston Interfaith Organization (GBIO), called out the lack of an increase in local Housing Authority operating funds in the Governor’s proposed 2024 budget. GBIO’s Housing Justice campaign also calls for a five-year bond to fund overdue maintenance and capital needs in the state’s public housing system, a real estate transfer fee to increase affordable housing funding, and support for implementation of the MBTA Communities Act zoning for multifamily housing.
  • A recent article profiled two Greater Boston residents who became unhoused for the first time in their later decades. Judith from Newburyport, 72, lived in her car for a year while Susan from Abington, 56, landed in a shelter. Both trace their circumstances to loss of a husband or partner years earlier, followed by long periods in low-paying jobs. The piece, part of the WGBH series Priced Out: The fight for housing in Massachusetts, provides a close-up look at a world of storage containers and housing authority waitlists experienced by a growing number of older people, especially women. “Right now the boat is filling up with water and we’re bailing, but not fast enough,” said Patti Prunhuber, director of housing advocacy at Justice in Aging, a legal organization that fights senior poverty.
  • In reaction to the debate over strengthening the Affordable Housing Overlay, a group of Rindge Avenue residents took issue with the way opponents of the proposal talk about larger affordable housing developments. The residents note, “[w]e have many large, wonderful affordable-housing apartments, including LBJ, Manning, Millers River and Rindge Towers; they have wonderful amenities, and we love our neighbors. We ask that you please stop referring to homes and buildings such as ours as slums or awful housing with no community. It is offensive. These buildings are our homes, and they provide us with access to the opportunities that make this city great.”
  • The editorial board of The Harvard Crimson recently connected the dots between the “draconian regulations” of our zoning code and the lack of affordable food and housing options around Harvard Square. ”Amidst a national reckoning on land use, we, too, must reckon with the larger, structural forces that shape the shops we pass,” the board notes. “In one of the most liberal cities in America, low-income residents and low-price businesses have found themselves victims of a wealthy gatekeeping policy.” Another result is the much-lamented change in the “character” of the Square -- with much of the lamenting coming from the gatekeepers themselves. 

These numbers may change by the time you click this link, but at this writing, business services company Payscale reports that, compared to the national average, groceries in Cambridge cost 12% more; utilities 19% more and housing 212% more.