Saturday, May 25, 2024

Over the past couple of years the Cambridge City Council has taken a number of steps to address the housing crisis in the city, including the adoption of an Affordable Housing Overlay. A number of other proposals are being considered.

One relatively simple step, while by no means a solution to this complex issue, does not seem to have been considered: First, do no harm. In the context of housing, this would mean that the number of units in a building could not be reduced – for example, converting a three-family into a single-family. Perhaps there should be an exception if the number of units were replaced with an equivalent number of units.

Consider what has occurred on one block on my street, Lexington Avenue, over the past few years. When I moved into the street almost 50 years ago, this block was a mixture of single-families, two- and three-families and a scattering of apartment buildings. While the number of units in the apartment buildings have remained unchanged, many of the two- and three-family homes have been converted into single-family homes. In fact, as I write this letter, another two-family is being converted. And a year or so ago, there was even an attempt to demolish a three-family and combine it with a single-family that used to be a three-family.

The result: a combined loss of five units. Fortunately, and somewhat unusually, the Historical Commission stepped in and prevented the demolition. I’m glad to say that the demolition also received considerable opposition from the neighborhood.

The conversation of two- and three-family homes into single-family homes is not limited to Lexington Avenue. It is happening throughout Cambridge. While an ordinance that prohibited such conversation would not solve the city’s housing crisis, it will prevent a slow, somewhat imperceptible and, in my view, completely unnecessary reduction in the city’s current housing stock.

Peter Sturges, Lexington Avenue