A Better Cambridge calls on city to create 8,500 housing units within next 15 years (update)
From A Better Cambridge, Feb. 26: Cambridge faces a serious crisis. While our economy booms, working families struggle to afford the cost of rent or homeownership.
A Better Cambridge – a citywide organization of Cambridge residents who work to build a more diverse and sustainable community – is calling on the City Council to enact zoning and regulatory changes to allow the creation of 8,500 new mixed-income housing units over the next 15 years.
According to an analysis of regional housing needs by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, an aging population, growing cultural diversity and changing household preference will intersect to create a Boston metropolitan region in 2030 that is markedly different from what exists today. MAPC projects that the region needs more than 400,000 new housing units – including 8,500 in Cambridge – to meet the expected demand for housing by current and future residents in the coming 15 years.
Using U.S. Census data to determine how income distribution among Cambridge families has changed in recent decades, ABC determined that at least 20 percent of the new units must be affordable to low-, moderate- and middle-income families to maintain an economically diverse community.
Jesse Kanson-Benanav, ABC chairman and a Wellington-Harrington resident, believes the council must act soon to address the dwindling supply of affordable housing for Cambridge families: “We have planned, studied, convened and discussed our housing crises enough,” Kanson-Benanav said. “Now we have the opportunity to respond directly by zoning for increased density – taller buildings and increased floor area ratios – at major transportation hubs and along major corridors in Cambridge.”
Kanson-Benanav explained that the council and Planning Board are considering a zoning proposal by Normandy Partners and Twining Properties to create the Mass+Main mixed-income and mixed-use zoning district in Central Square – a productive step toward the 8,500 new housing units needed to preserve our diverse community.
ABC encourages councillors and Planning Board members to work with Normandy and Twining to ensure their final project achieves the goal of being a sustainable, transit-oriented community with the greatest number of affordable housing units possible.
In addition to passing the zoning, ABC challenges the council to take concrete action on the following items before this November’s election:
For the rest of Central Square, at a minimum pass the zoning recommendations offered by the Central Square Advisory Committee, recommendations the council itself requested.
Initiate a review of zoning around other transit hubs and major corridors across the city with intent to provide increased density to allow for the creation of more mixed-income housing with local retail components.
Increase linkage fees and the inclusionary zoning of affordable housing to create and support more affordable units.
Reduce or eliminate parking minimums from the zoning code, at the very least around transportation hubs.
Use every means of influence the city has to increase the amount of housing that universities build on their campuses to reduce the pressure on the Cambridge housing market.
Read the group’s full statement here.
Update on March 4, 2015: Jesse Kanson-Benanav has sent the following to modify his letter: “In a recent statement, A Better Cambridge called for building 8,500 housing units in Cambridge and mistakenly attributed this number to the Metropolitan Area Planning Council. MAPC itself calls for the creation of between 3,100 and 6,200 units in Cambridge by 2030.
“Our number was derived by subtracting the existing number of occupied units in Cambridge according to the 2012 American Community Survey from MAPC’s projection for the number of units Cambridge needs under a “strong region.” That resulted in our 8,500 unit goal.
“We appreciate MAPC calling this error to our attention and apologize for any confusion our error in attribution caused.
“We look forward to a robust discussion of how our community should best respond to this clear need for housing.”
I have a couple of comments in response to this letter, many points of which I agree with.
8,500 dwelling units, at the commonly stated average of 1,000 sq.ft of building floor area per unit required (including common elements like halls, lobbies, mechanical equipment, etc.) means 8,500,000 square feet of new building. Eight and a half million. The Prudential tower across the river is one million. The Sullivan Courthouse in East Cambridge could contain almost five hundred dwelling units if converted to all residential use. We would be looking at the equivalent of eight and a half Prudentials or seventeen Sullivans. Where would it all go? The “market” is unlikely to do this anyway, as it would mean building itself out of a highly profitable situation. The last time we did that was ECAPS, and what happened is that a developer bought all the land it could in the zone and had it further rezoned for all commercial use, and we (East Cambridge Planning Team and residents) had to fight like hell to get two hundred seventy some dwelling units included in fifteen acres of redevelopment. Learn your local history.
Second, ABC provides no link, either here or on their website’s version of this letter, to the MAPC report with those Cambridge numbers it refers to. Several people have looked for it with no success. Please rectify this omission.
My numbers are probably much too modest. According to an article in Boston Business Journal today, the Boston Redevelopment Authority has recently approved 1.1 million sq. ft. of new constriction yielding 787 dwelling units.
With those recent real world numbers as an example, that makes the case that we would need almost 11.9 million square feet of new building. This includes some retail space, which Cambridge does not even count when giving out these numbers.
I also found a recent interview with Leonard Nimoy recalling Boston’s West End and what happens to neighborhoods when cities replace them with towers. AS I said before where is it all going to go?
This 19-story residential tower being foisted on the city by Twining/Normandy is the project that intends to blast away all resistance to piecemeal project-based planning for Central Square. At the same time it would also bestow the city’s blessings on sugar-coated gentrification for the near and foreseeable future. (“Sugar-coated” because it is gentrification sweetened by a paltry amount of affordable housing sprinkled lightly throughout the project.)
And now ABC seems to have developed a formula that defines the city’s needs to prevent displacement. Will their call for “20% affordable to low-, moderate- and middle-income” actually result in enough affordable units to offset the tsunami of development that is already cleansing Cambridge of its economic and ethnic diversity?
The newly proposed Twining/Normandy Partners proposal is an affront to a community just waking up from a binge of over-development and struggling to put some actual planning in place. No matter how its proponents frame it, it is anything but a savior and protector of Cambridge’s most vulnerable residents. Under the Normandy proposal an affordable one-bedroom unit—probably the lowest-priced unit in the entire project— would rent for $1,000 a month. That’s what they consider affordable.
I would have more respect for figures offered by ABC if they hadn’t already shown they want ALL restrictions on developers removed. Where other organizations have been arguing for reductions and compromise, ABC has supported unrestricted development, as if this seven-mile-square chunk of land we all share had infinite room for growth and wasn’t already densely populated by people who value their quality of life and wish to protect it.
Can repeating the same, worn out “affordable housing” mantra safely allow a City Councilor or a rabidly pro-development group like ABC to call for a “Yes” vote that would further erode the dwindling sheet of ice our poorest residents are clinging to? Why not, it’s worked pretty well up to now.
Can we stop all the obfuscation, please! Developments like the Twining/Normandy tower are not the solution to the affordable housing crisis. THEY ARE THE CAUSE!!! Look at the trends: as development runs rampant, the number of families and school-age children in Cambridge are on the decline. As are the percentage of 3- or 4-bedroom “family-sized” apartments included in our newest residential complexes. We all know people who have moved out of Cambridge, sadly accepting they could no longer afford to live here. Building more developments for the wealthy, with a few sugar-coated “affordable” units is not going to help them, or those who are still hanging on.
I have watched with interest as ABC has transitioned from blatant support of almost any development proposal (two years ago they circulated a petition to support building a lab in Central Square) to where today they are raising up the prospective victims of gentrification as the reason we must all support unlimited, unfettered, uncontrolled and, most of all, unplanned development in Cambridge.
What needs to happen immediately is that CDD must find a way to quantify the percentage of truly affordable units necessary to offset whatever displacement a development causes. We cannot continue to rely on an inclusionary zoning formula that protects a few lucky residents while placing the majority in greater peril.
Pardon the rant, but I, for one, am fed up with developers and their defenders pretending these over-sized developments leave anything but crumbs and unplanned chaos for the rest of us.
Marky-mark I do believe you’ve found your funky bunch. ABC should at least point to where this 8,500 number comes from, but not to satisfy the ravings of you two, but I can’t find it either and if you’re going to use stats you will need to back em up.
To add to the snark Marky-Mark offers acecedotal info to give a bit of gusto to his fist shaking. At least that is slightly productive whereas the Funky Bunch just can’t stop dancing the crazy dance. So I’ll ask again, Mr. Steven-Stone, to which wave of gentrification are you referring? The one where people like you stole properties for nickels on the dollar from blue collar families? Or is it this alleged third or fourth wave where those very same, though much wealthier, interlopers who now live on million dollar single families are doing their darnedest to make sure the next generation doesn’t interrupt their Manchester-by-the-Charles vibe? Let’s examine what has happened to housing under your generation tender minding of those less fortunate. Housing costs have gone up 92% in the last ten years alone (Boston Magazine 2015). The city is completely segregated because you and your beret wearing chums think that poors should stay in places like Area IV and don’t belong sullying up your good thing in the posh areas of town. Thus diversity and the very group you claim to protect truly exists only in three areas out of the total thirteen. You offer no solutions only talking point BS based on your feelings and shrouded under the auspice of helping those less fortunate; when in fact everything you and your kind have done over the past several decades is maintain the status quo. The poor have had enemies less cruel.
Patrick: I have told you a number of times I will not answer your bellicose rantings, especially when you turn an important discussion into another opportunity to snarl and hurl personal accusations. I’ll let Mark speak for himself.
Reply to that puddle of piddle? I don’t think so.
The truth is powerful medicine. You two hippy carpetbaggers dish out a ton of unsubstantiated bullcrap it’s telling how little you can stand being called out.
Mark’s math is forthright and basically right on, and the BRA plan should give further pause.
For instance, the cloyingly named “Paris Village” in the BRA’s plan is a new 43,000 sqft development with 23 residential units estimated to cost $11.5m. That is roughly in line with the national median for home size (1700-1800 sqft).
8,500 such units would require about 15m sqft of purely residential space.
That is more like 30 Sullivan Courthouses.
And that would mean building 2 Sullivan Courthouses every year, purely for housing, for the next 15 years. And what about the commensurate demands for space for retail, support services, open space, parks and community gardens, or, god forbid, rational public transit and parking?
By the way: note that the proposed redevelopment of the Sullivan Courthouse, which many find objectionable and which is now being contested in court, would add just 24 housing “units.” Those are about 1000 sqft each (considerably below the national median), and just four of them are “affordable” units. (For comparison, two floors of the original building held 63 jail cells.) So, under this plan, the City would get about half of a “Paris Village” worth of residential space stuffed into an overpriced commercial skyscraper.
This doesn’t add up.
Some of these comments are starting to seem like nothing more than ad hominem attacks. Patrick mixed insults into more substantive remarks and I felt like Paul and Mark should be allowed to reply … but this is heading in a bad, less-than-productive direction.
I think the guideline, Mr. Barrett, should be not to say anything online you wouldn’t say in person and to someone’s face. Future dialogue that comes across as it has in this three-way exchange may be edited (and noted as such) or simply rejected. I just don’t want these forums to deteriorate this way.
I take issue with the suggestion that the current housing situation results from the policies I espouse, along with many others. In fact, I contend that we are seeing the results of the housing policy this letter supports. How many thousands of expensive housing units have been built in Cambridge in the past few years? Has anything trickled down to those of us who can’t afford $3000 a month for a one-bedroom apartment (other than the so-called affordable units)? I think reality (having a liberal bias and all) shows that the current trickle-down housing policy is just as successful as the last 35 years of Reaganomics have been in redistributing wealth upward away from most of us into the pockets of the very rich. The notion that our arguing for different policies, which the city has rejected repeatedly and instead done the opposite of what we have been recommending, is the reason things are bad is totally absurd.
Please see this ‘clarification’ from ABC:
March 4, 2015
In a recent statement, A Better Cambridge called for building 8,500 housing units in Cambridge and mistakenly attributed this number to the Metropolitan Area Planning Council. MAPC itself calls for the creation of between 3,100 and 6,200 units in Cambridge by 2030.
Our number was derived by subtracting the existing number of occupied units in Cambridge according to the 2012 American Community Survey from MAPC’s projection for the number of units Cambridge needs under a “strong region.” That resulted in our 8,500 unit goal.
We appreciate MAPC calling this error to our attention and apologize for any confusion our error in attribution caused.
We look forward to a robust discussion of how our community should best respond to this clear need for housing.
Chairman, A Better Cambridge
I suggest updating the headline of this op-ed to reflect that the 8500-unit target was inflated. Simply adding “(Update”) does not tell readers that the number was a misstatement.
Further, it should be clarified that the MAPC study’s target was for housing growth from 2010-2030. Five years in, Cambridge developers have already produced several thousand new units, with more in the permitting pipeline.
No one disputes the need for more, and more affordable, housing. But let’s take greater care to ground the debate in actual numbers.