Sunday, June 16, 2024

A screen capture from a Cambridge construction log for 2023.

Cambridge is in the midst of a housing crisis. A city renowned for education and innovation is failing to meet one of its most fundamental needs: shelter. With a median cost of more than $3,000 for a one-bedroom apartment, we find ourselves beside Manhattan and San Francisco as one of the most expensive cities in the nation.

This year, we built only five housing units. Yes, just five. In a city of 50,000 homes, that’s not 1 percent or even 0.1 percent; it’s less than 0.01 percent. These numbers are not just statistics. They represent a profound failure to keep up with the needs of our community.

You can see the development log for 2023 here and filter it for completed projects.

We have taken some positive steps. The Affordable Housing Overlay and the elimination of parking mandates are significant achievements, but are not enough in comparison to the decades of exclusionary, anti-housing and anti-renter zoning that have shaped our city’s landscape.

You may think we are building lots of housing because we talk about it often. The truth is, we are not. The reality is stark. We don’t even have space to keep the children born in Cambridge here, let alone accommodate those drawn by the allure of Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology or Kendall Square.

The fact is, we need to rezone the city, and we need to do it now.

Why rezoning?

1. It will allow more people to live here: With people moving to Cambridge for opportunities at Harvard, MIT and Kendall Square, we must create space not only for them but for the children born here who want to stay in their hometown.

2. It erases the legacy of redlining: Rezoning can help dismantle the inequities that haunt our zoning maps, bridge divides and create a more united community.

3. It makes our city more affordable: By increasing the housing supply, we can counter the skyrocketing rents that have become a hallmark of our city. This follows Minneapolis, which saw rents increase just 2 percent between 2017 and 2023 after enacting reforms.

4. It allows families to grow: With rezoning, adding an extra bedroom to welcome a newborn or a grandparent and making necessary changes to homes becomes a possibility, not a bureaucratic nightmare that requires an expensive special permit.

We stand at a critical juncture. We can continue to talk about housing without meaningful action, or we can take bold steps toward a city that reflects our shared values of inclusivity, innovation and compassion.

This election season, we stand at a critical juncture. We can continue to talk about housing without meaningful action, or we can take bold steps toward a city that reflects our shared values and the urgency of the moment.

Burhan Azeem, Cambridge city councillor


This post was updated to correct an editor’s error identifying the date on the construction log.