Cambridge’s Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) could play an important role in addressing the housing crisis because they can grant Comprehensive Permits for affordable housing under Mass 40B, as well as approving variances under our own zoning code. However, the BZA has rejected some housing developments by adding their personal criteria to the legal standards for approval. For example, when an affordable housing developer tried to build 49 below-market-rate units at 2072 Massachusetts Avenue, even a super-majority of City Councilors in support could not stop the BZA from repeatedly rejecting alternative proposals that sought to meet the members’ own more stringent requirements.
Many current BZA members are wealthy homeowners, insulated from the worst impacts of our housing shortage, and do not seem to recognize its harmful effects.
Fortunately, multiple vacancies have opened up on the BZA, and Yi-An Huang, the new city manager, is recruiting new members to the board. The city is even considering paying a stipend for the position. If you or anyone you know lives in Cambridge and works in (or is just a nerd about) urban planning, architecture, or any other related field, please consider applying. If you’re on the fence, check out this Twitter thread from an ABC member making a longer pitch.
P.S. This weekend, ABC is canvassing in support of Yes on 1 - the Fair Share Amendment. Saturday canvasses (October 22) are at 11am and 2pm in the Port. Sunday canvasses (October 23) are at 2pm and 5pm in North Cambridge. You’ll be able to hand out information about housing and ABC alongside talking to new voters about funding for public transportation and education. Plus, we are also planning to do voter registration on Monday and Tuesday (October 24 and 25). To sign up to help, fill out this form!