It's time to build more housing in Cambridge.

For a city with a housing crisis, Cambridge makes it hard to build housing. On about a third of its residential land, building new apartment buildings is prohibited outright by zoning. And even where apartments are legal in theory, dimensional standards, such as setbacks, have made it impossible to build them in practice. These rules are referred to as "exclusionary zoning" because when they were created in the 20th century, they were designed to keep the city economically and racially segregated. Since then, as Cambridge added jobs but made it illegal to build enough homes, housing prices skyrocketed and communities have been displaced.

ABC and other housing advocates have been trying for years to change that, and this might be the year we succeed. The Housing Committee of the Cambridge City Council has taken up the task of promoting 6-story multi-family housing city-wide.

Legalizing six stories city-wide would allow for building much-needed new homes. In addition, it would support building inclusionary homes, wherein new projects with 10+ units are required to set aside 20% as affordable to tenants making between 50% and 80% of area median income. With current zoning restrictions, few projects with 10+ units - and therefore few inclusionary homes - get built.

On May 8, the Housing Committee voted unanimously in support of ending exclusionary zoning. At the hearing, Harvard professor Jason Furman, one of President Obama's top economists and a Cambridge resident, testified in favor of allowing more height and density. Paul Williams, Executive Director of the Center for Public Enterprise and one of America's top experts on social housing, also spoke in strong support.

The following week, the full City Council voted to direct the Community Development Department (CDD) to work with the Housing Committee co-chairs, Councillors Azeem and Siddiqui, to realize their vision. Conversations are ongoing and we anticipate a zoning proposal at the end of the summer. The next Housing Committee meeting on the topic is scheduled for Thursday, June 27.

Throughout the process, the City needs to hear its residents demand more housing. There have already been hundreds of comments both for and against, as well as a rival zoning petition (the "Ronayne Petition") that sought to legalize multi-family housing in name only, without big enough changes to actually result in more housing.

Sign up for action alerts through A Better Cambridge's mailing list - or get involved by joining as a member! You can also email [email protected] with any questions.

A more detailed FAQ will be coming soon. In the meanwhile, you can view Councillor Azeem's presentation, CDD's initial response, and the ABC resources page for more background.