We need more renters in City Hall
Joe McGuirk’s family came to Cambridge in 1938 when Newtowne Court first opened. Publicly funded housing was one of the main ways that his family got lifted up from the working class into the middle class. After a childhood in the nearby suburbs, Joe moved back to Cambridge as a young adult for work, just as the debate over rent control heated up. He has struggled to balance paying his rent and continuing to support his family ever since.
Burhan Azeem, too, experienced housing insecurity – his immigrant family couldn’t afford a place of their own. Living with friends, they hid in the basement when the landlord came around. He skipped kindergarten because they didn’t want to be caught. These days, Burhan can afford to rent in Cambridge because his three-bedroom apartment is split with three people. But Burhan knows that, like Joe’s family, he would not be able to raise a family here. It just wouldn’t be affordable.
We should not be pushing people out of Cambridge who want to raise families. Young people who have fallen in love with the city should feel that they can raise their kids here, too. What could be more symbolic of a love for Cambridge than a desire to raise kids here? Only 12 percent of Cambridge residents are children – the lowest of any of our peer cities, and the majority of parents are in the top quintile of residents in terms of income. With the status quo, it’s precisely those Cambridge-aspiring families that are being pushed out.
Our middle class has so little opportunity to remain and raise a family, even as renters. Stronger housing policies in the past allowed for families to rent and ultimately save enough for a down payment for homeownership. But unchecked trends in housing and lack of support from our leaders make it highly unlikely that renters will be able to do that unless they are high earners or win a lottery. Neither of these will solve the problem of a vanishing middle class
Renters need representation on City Council. But it’s also extremely hard to run for council when you are lower-income, working a full-time job and housing insecure. That’s why the council skews towards the retired and toward those who already have the means to run. The stresses on renters are different than those on homeowners. While housing costs have risen for both groups, renters face insecurities in housing that owners do not. If you’re on a year-to-year lease, you’re likely going to have an important perspective on Cambridge that homeowners won’t have.
Cambridge must represent all of Cambridge. That means electing people who actually know what paying rent feels like, what it might feel like to miss rent. These are people who remember what it’s like to be left out. These are people who love this city passionately.
Burhan and Joe have made affordable housing the No. 1 issue on their campaign trails. They know that without real work on our housing issues, Cambridge is at risk of losing its ideals of equity, fairness and inclusion. Let’s meet the challenges of our city – face to face, detail by detail – and live up to our incredible ideals.
Burhan Azeem and Joe McGuirk, candidates for City Council