In our housing and climate crises, it is indefensible for the City to continue to prohibit new triple-deckers and fourplexes in residential neighborhoods, while allowing and encouraging new 2+-million-dollar detached houses. Small multifamily apartment buildings are some of Cambridge’s most affordable and sustainable housing stock, and the regulations that ban them have an ugly, racist and classist history.
We’re pleased that the City Council has committed to continuing the conversation on ending these exclusionary zoning regulations. Now is the time for advocates who are invested in productive policy-making to come to the table and grapple with the tradeoffs and possibilities involved. It is disappointing that a number of groups are instead spending their time stirring up fear and outrage by holding a rally against reform.
A Better Cambridge was proud to be a leader in the fight for the 100% Affordable Housing Overlay, which has already added over 300 new units of affordable housing to the development pipeline since it passed in October. In 2021, ABC is also joining other advocates to support the approximately 50 units of transit-oriented, deeply affordable housing still under consideration for 2072 Mass Ave. Unlike the organizers of this anti-housing rally, we don’t believe in choosing between affordable housing and ending exclusionary zoning; we can and must have both.
We believe that it is vital to build a system where everyone can access housing as a human right, and that it will take a combination of many reforms and initiatives to get there. Defending a broken status quo does not bring Cambridge closer to that goal.
We’re grateful to the many community members, city staff, and local stakeholders who have helped shape our work on zoning reform through countless conversations, and in particular to Sunrise Boston who have been invaluable partners. If the organizers of this rally - some of whom we have repeatedly tried to engage over the past few months - ever become interested in practical, actionable, and creative policy planning, we would love to talk to them as well, whether about zoning or any other topic.
Until then, we urge the Cambridge community to learn more below and at CambridgeMMH.org.
Allan Sadun, Co-chair, A Better Cambridge
Becca Schofield, Co-chair, A Better Cambridge
Further Context on Exclusionary Zoning
The term “exclusionary zoning” refers to zoning rules that prohibit the construction of the most affordable kinds of housing in certain areas, with the effect (and, historically, the intent) of keeping working people and minorities out. In Cambridge, many neighborhoods have examples of “missing middle housing” (fourplexes, triple-deckers, townhouses) that predate zoning, but nearly all neighborhoods have rules that make them illegal to build today.
Cambridge’s exclusionary zoning rules:
Encourage wasteful land use - current zoning privileges parking over people, by requiring one off-street parking space per unit. Cambridge is one of the most environmentally friendly places to live in the state, and our dense housing is a big part of that. But exclusionary zoning undermines transit, walkability, and bikeability, and instead promotes impervious surfaces and suburban-style sprawl.
Produce more expensive housing - most new construction in neighborhoods today produces large, seven-figure single detached houses, in many cases by removing units from a previously-multifamily building. The denser buildings and more reasonable unit sizes that would provide more affordable housing options are not allowed by zoning.
Help keep the city racially and economically segregated - the wealthiest and whitest neighborhoods are the ones with the most exclusionary zoning restrictions. Allowing small apartment buildings in every neighborhood is an equity imperative.
- Increase displacement of low and middle-income residents by exacerbating Cambridge’s massive housing shortage.
Ending exclusionary zoning is one of many needed tools to advance housing equity. We are proud to be residents of a city that passed the nation’s first Affordable Housing Overlay, prioritizing affordable housing over free market competition and luxury development. There are many other policies that should be pursued alongside zoning reform - including more affordable housing, additional local rent subsidies, an impactful condo conversion ordinance, anti-displacement initiatives, and strategies for land control and development that will protect housing from market speculation. We want to help Cambridge create a national model for sustainable and just housing development.
The Missing Middle Housing proposal aims to end exclusionary zoning in a way that changes the luxury status quo in Cambridge’s housing market, and creates less expensive, more sustainable options. An economically and socially diverse Cambridge requires this type of housing.