ABC News, Nov 2022: Housing and climate policy, AHO improvements, and more

(Sent on Monday, Nov 28.)

ABC is presenting “Housing Policy is Climate Policy,” a virtual talk with Q+A, on Wednesday, December 7, at 7pm. Anna Zetkulic of the Rocky Mountain Institute will discuss how changing zoning laws to allow mixed-income housing in higher-income, urban, walkable neighborhoods can improve climate and equity. Register here to receive the Zoom link.

A long-awaited set of improvements to the 2020 Affordable Housing Overlay was proposed at the November 21 Council meeting. Sponsored by Councilors Azeem, McGovern, Simmons and Zondervan, the plan envisions taller buildings along selected streets and around specific squares, along with incentives structured to provide more open space without reducing housing. (Brief summary here; draft zoning language here). The proposal will next go to separate hearings with the Housing Committee (chaired by Councilor Simmons) and the Neighborhood & Long Term Planning Committee (chaired by Councilor Carlone).

Since the proposal to expand the AHO is drawing lots of attention, the ABC Advocacy Working Group will be meeting on Monday, December 5*, 7-8pm, to plan additional information and outreach activities to increase awareness of the need for affordable and sustainable housing. If you're interested in participating, please fill out this form or contact Neil Miller for details.

(*the emailed version of this newsletter had the incorrect date.)

Please also join us this Thursday, December 1 at 7pm for the monthly pro-housing social meetup at Grendel’s Den in Harvard Square!

In other news…

  • The City administration is in the midst of a 9-month project to develop Citywide Urban Design Guidelines for parks, plazas, sidewalks and buildings. Although the project webpage contains very little information so far, attendees at a November 16 community engagement meeting learned that staff from multiple design consulting firms had already been out, making observations and collecting usage information on various parts of the urban landscape. There's a sign-up for email updates on the project, which is scheduled to produce a Public Realm Design Manual by May 2023.

  • Three years ago, the Federal government allowed Cambridge, Boston and Brookline to begin paying higher rents on Section 8 housing vouchers used in high-cost zip codes, instead of paying based on the average rent for the entire metro Boston area. That change means poorer households have improved chances of finding an apartment in a better neighborhood. From the results, it appears that rent voucher usage has indeed been declining in low-income areas and rising in previously out-of-reach segregated areas, while fewer vouchers than before go unused. Since research shows that “that every year spent in a better area during childhood increases a child’s earnings in adulthood,” this simple administrative change may have long-lasting effects.

  • For The Atlantic, reporter Annie Lowrey talked to lots of experts, seeking to discover the actual size of the national housing shortage. Although her answer is not a string of digits, her report “The U.S. Needs More Housing Than Almost Anyone Can Imagine” trenchantly explains causes and effects: “ High rents and sale prices in major cities are a policy choice, one that puts gates around many of our most wonderful places and taxes the folks lucky enough to live there. And it is unfair to all of us. A United States with more abundant housing in its big cities would have a more productive, vibrant, and dynamic economy too….The problem is largely, if not exclusively, the result of the country not permitting enough homes where people want them.”

  • The petition to establish an East Cambridge Neighborhood Conservation District,  struggling into its fourth year of operation in “study” status (i.e. prior to approval from City Council), after a Historic-Commission-administered survey of the neighborhood revealed only lukewarm support, heads to a December 1 meeting (6pm), to “consider” the Study Committee’s final report and “make recommendations.” Zoom signup is here.

  • Tomorrow morning (Tuesday, 11/29) at 11:30, The Unhoused Neighbors Project will be unveiled on the second floor of City Hall. The exhibit of posters resulted from a series of interviews with some of our neighbors who have experienced the worst consequences of Cambridge’s severe shortage of housing and spiraling rents. At 2pm on the same day, the Human Services and Veterans Committee, chaired by Councilor McGovern, will convene to discuss the unhoused population in Cambridge.