Wednesday, July 24, 2024
The authors with fellow councillor Leland Cheung

The authors with fellow councillor Leland Cheung in a group portrait.

From city councillors Dennis Benzan, E. Denise Simmons and Marc McGovern, May 12: There is a major housing crisis in Cambridge. With the average single-family home selling for $1.5 Lettermillion, few people can afford to buy here. Since the end of rent control in the mid-1990s, 10 percent of our housing stock – close to 4,000 units – has been converted to expensive condominiums, and the rents for many of the remaining units have increased to unaffordable levels in the ensuing years.

As people who have lived our entire lives in this community, we have personally observed and felt the impact of this housing crisis, as too many friends and family members have been driven out of a city they could no longer afford. We represent the broad spectrum of Cambridge’s diversity: working poor, working class, LGBT and those with immigrant roots. We were all born and raised in Cambridge, and have watched our city become ever more welcoming, vibrant and prosperous. Yet, while Cambridge has done a marvelous job bringing in business and developing commercial property, our housing stock has remained woefully inadequate. It is nearly impossible for a baby boomer, millennial of modest means or a working-class family to afford a market-rate rent in Cambridge. Gone are the days when a police officer, firefighter, teacher or nurse could buy a home here and raise their family. In response, the city has taken significant steps to help maintain the fabric of our closely knit neighborhoods by enacting the Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance, which requires developers to include a set amount of affordable units in their buildings if they build above a certain height, and this ordinance has produced more than 850 permanently affordable housing units since its inception; we strongly urge that this ordinance should be strengthened to help generate even more units. Cambridge has also committed revenue to create and preserve more than 1,500 affordable units in recent years, and we are working hard to preserve even more units, such as those at Rindge Towers, in the coming years.

Although the city has taken steps to alleviate the housing crisis, many of our most vulnerable residents – the working class, baby boomers, seniors, single-parent families, the disabled, veterans, the homeless, victims of domestic violence and many in the middle class – are at greater risk of not finding or maintaining affordable housing than ever before. Cambridge will continue to be one of the most desirable and attractive places in the commonwealth to work, but commercial development must be in sync with housing development or our neighbors will continue to be forced out by spiraling prices and the tremendous competition for our traditional wood-frame housing stock.

Even as you read this letter, families who desperately wish to remain in Cambridge are being priced out of our city. We the citizens of Cambridge must act and act soon if we wish to preserve our closely knit neighborhoods, if we wish to keep what’s best of our communities from being evicted from our city. We must act by supporting zoning changes that:

bullet-gray-small improve and enhance our public spaces

bullet-gray-small significantly increase affordable housing

bullet-gray-small create jobs

bullet-gray-small support small businesses in our city.

Our leadership must continue to be innovative, deliberate, bold and geared toward simultaneously preserving our economic strength and significantly expanding affordable housing opportunities for our residents. Such decisions will require a degree of compromise, particularly if we wish to preserve the diversity we value so much. For us, affordable housing is the priority, and we are committed to maximizing opportunities through thoughtful, collaborative discussion that takes into account all the complex factors that make building housing in the Metro Boston area so complex. As lifelong residents of Area IV and Riverside, we have seen our neighborhoods change dramatically, and we are deeply committed to doing all that we can to support the neighborhoods we love as best we can. It is for that reason that we support more housing, and particularly more affordable housing, and through hard work and thoughtful, honest and rational discussion, we will keep Cambridge the strong, diverse community we all cherish.

Benzan is vice-mayor and co-chairman of the City Council’s Ordinance Committee; Simmons is chairwoman of the Housing Committee; McGovern is chairman of the Finance Committee.