Thursday, June 20, 2024

A common refrain among density-nervous Cantabrigians is that when it comes to creating affordable housing, we have “done our share.”

According to Metropolitan Area Planning Council data, just under 13 percent of our housing is subsidized. That puts us ahead of Newton and Somerville (at around 9 percent), on par with Lincoln, Lexington and Brookline (11 percent to 13 percent) and well under Springfield and Boston (16 percent to 19 percent). But why should we compare ourselves to our neighbors? Read the Boston Globe report on Milton’s stance toward housing and you will quickly want to distance yourself from exclusionary communities rather than compare.

Instead, lets look for inspiration. Vienna is regarded as a beacon of housing abundance, quality and accessibility. Here is a city in which 60 percent of the population lives in subsidized housing, and nearly half of the city’s housing stock is owned by the city. The city is consistently at the top of The Economist’s “livable” city survey, and it is on architectural student’s travel itinerary for its great design. How did this come to be? In the words of Vienna’s deputy mayor, “Social housing policies in Vienna have been shaped by the political commitment that housing is a basic right.”

While we cannot hope to replicate Vienna’s housing wealth, we can learn from it and other European city’s successes. This summer, state Rep. Mike Connolly introduced the Massachusetts Social Housing Act. It combines some of the benefits of traditional public housing with some of the cash-flow advantages of market-rate development, and it avoids some of the challenges that doomed so many of our public housing programs over the years. Cambridge could be an early adopter of such policies with our own wealth and expertise.

As long as we have unhoused people populating our squares, children and graduates who don’t even consider staying or moving back to their hometown because of out-of-reach rents and countless workers forced out, we have not done enough. And with the early waves of climate refugees lapping at our shores, we cannot afford to sit back.

When you vote next week, consider which of the City Council candidates are ready to continue the hard work of creating housing opportunities in Cambridge, and which believe that we have already done too much.

For details on candidates’ views on the housing crisis, visit ABC’s election page.

Bill Boehm, Laurel Street