Renters Matter

By Dan Eisner

The housing crisis affects everybody who lives in Cambridge, but nobody feels the pain like renters. Significant rent hikes, leases not being renewed, and evictions all weigh on the minds of people who didn’t have the good fortune to buy a home here before prices began to soar earlier this decade.

Homeowners are shielded from this pain. Year after year, they know how much their mortgage payments will be and don’t need to worry about being priced out of the city they love. Meanwhile, they gain wealth as their property values increase dramatically.

Some of these homeowners vote in City Council elections for candidates who will protect their interests and fight the creation of new homes. The preferences of homeowners are reflected in the makeup of our current Council: while 65% of the Cambridge population are renters, eight of our nine councilors are homeowners.

This underrepresentation helps to explain policies that are, at best, indifferent to renters. Our zoning code remains stuck in a previous era, when the demand for housing was much lower. Now, as people flock to Cambridge for its jobs, walkability, and diversity, the City has a responsibility to reform its zoning to make it possible to build homes for them, while ensuring that strong protections are in place to minimize negative effects on current tenants. But some of our current Councilors are unwilling to make these changes. As a result, Cambridge has become too expensive for all but the wealthiest earners. 

Renters matter. They deserve to have their voices heard. We must elect city council candidates who understand this and will enact policies that ease the burden on the people who make this city so vibrant and dynamic.

Last week, as I was helping register voters through ABC’s Renters Matter registration drive, I asked a passerby if he was a Cambridge resident. He responded, “No, it’s too expensive here!” His gallows humor made me laugh, but it was sad: the massive demand for housing has driven out too many of our friends and neighbors over the years.

Fortunately, our housing crisis can be solved: with a combination of increased production and tenant protections, we can create a path to a better Cambridge.

Join us at the ABC Candidate Forum on Wednesday to hear what candidates for City Council think we should do to tackle the housing crisis that residents of our city are facing.