What do you think are the causes of Cambridge’s high-priced housing market?
While Cambridge has always been a highly desirable place to live, recent market forces and broad trends have significantly increased the demand for living here (and the greater Boston area overall). Everyone from baby boomers to young professionals to families are eschewing the suburbs for our urban lifestyle that is dense, diverse, walkable, close to jobs, and well-served by public transit. Our collective preference for urban living is so high that many people are willing to pay a premium to live in an urban setting. The specific preference and increased demand for living in Cambridge is even higher because there are few communities that share a similar urban character. Urban economist Joe Cortright has framed the housing affordability challenge in a somewhat unique way by calling it a shortage of cities (http://cityobservatory.org/housing_cortright/). Of course housing is a regional problem. We need our neighboring towns to become more urban to attract more of the demand.
Compounding our housing affordability challenge is the fact that our housing production is behind by several decades. So while the demand is ever increasing, our supply hasn’t nearly kept up and today is woefully inadequate.
There is also some evidence that our low property taxes leads to higher home purchase costs because buyers know that the ongoing tax payments are lower than anywhere in the state.
How have high housing prices affected Cambridge and the surrounding region?
The shortage of housing and its high costs have reduced the economic, racial, and cultural diversity of our city, pushed families further from our region’s job centers, and damaged the environment through incentivized suburban sprawl.
These days, low-, moderate-, and middle-income families struggle mightily to stay in Cambridge as well as to move into our city. In many cases, these families are having to live further away from their jobs, which is increasing commute times and making it harder for them to build a strong financial footing.
Because of the racial wealth gap caused by centuries of intentional government racial discrimination, people of color are also becoming increasingly shut out of our high-opportunity city. In particular, we are losing our black neighbors. According to the 2019 Statistical Profile of Cambridge, while we have become a more diverse city overall, the diversity brought by our black neighbors has decreased 8% since 2000. We must understand who is specifically burdened by high housing costs for us to make the substantive changes needed for the future.
Suburban sprawl of cheap housing is also destroying the environment and worsening climate change. Because our inner core cities are not building enough housing, suburban sprawl has been destroying our forests at the rate of 65 acres a day in New England, with MA losing the most forest faster. Robust reforestation is a powerful tool for combating climate change so we need to protect what we have and - at the state level - make plans for adding more. In addition, forcing people to live further away also means they are more likely to drive to work. With transportation one of the leading causes of greenhouse gas emissions, we are further damaging the environment and increasing climate change.
What housing options currently exist for low-income tenants who are not high on the affordable housing waitlists? How can Cambridge help them?
Outside of government subsidized units, low-income tenants are left to the private sector. Many a Cambridge resident has been able to live in this city through the grace of a benevolent landlord. But, unfortunately, these opportunities are decreasing with generational change. For low-income renters it is a bleak reality that few options exist.
According to a recent Boston Fed report, we are short by more than 141k apartments for the number of extremely low-income households in MA. Instead, most low-income households pay more than 30% or more than 50% of their income on housing, leaving little for food, healthcare, transportation, or childcare.
So, what can Cambridge do? >> For one, we can build more affordable housing, either through subsidized housing or through market-rate development that triggers the inclusionary housing ordinance. >> Enhance the enforcement of our local income discrimination ordinance. >> Create a tenant education program so that tenants are aware of their rights and responsibilities, budgeting best practices, and housing search basics. >> Establish a Landlord Liaison Program for landlords who offer below-market rent or who accept Section 8 vouchers; the program could offer a financial incentive (property tax reduction, perhaps) to these landlords as well as provide education on best practices. >> Expand the preferences for Cambridge residents to include former residents who have been displaced due to the high cost of housing. >> Establish a pool of funds that would help offset the “startup” costs of moving, including first month’s rent, last month’s rent, security deposit, or the realtor’s fee, all of which is estimated to average $7,200 per household.
How does new market-rate residential development affect the affordability of Cambridge? How does new affordable housing affect the affordability of Cambridge?
Today, for any market-rate residential building with 10 or more units, 20% of these units must be dedicated for low-income tenants. This requirement is called Inclusionary Zoning and it has created thousands of deeply affordable units in the last few years. So, continuing to build market-rate buildings does a considerable benefit to creating affordable housing in the city. Because the private sector has vast amounts of more funding and more flexible funding - and because our housing market is booming - this avenue is a good option.
We also need more market-rate housing because our overall housing production has been seriously lagging for the past couple of decades. Bringing more market-rate housing online will help lower overall prices (by increasing the supply).
Government-subsidized affordable housing is also important to our city because it offers different kinds of buildings (usually low-rise) and features (a dedicated kids play space, for instance). Creating more dedicated subsidized housing and finding ways to support moderate-income households should also be a goal of our city.
What is the relationship between the twin crises of climate change and housing unaffordability? How can Cambridge address both?
Because housing is so expensive in Cambridge and the inner core, people are living further from jobs and economic opportunity. It is causing suburban sprawl and increasing our transportation emissions - both of which are harming the environment and adding to climate change.
Because our inner core cities are not building enough housing, suburban sprawl has been destroying our forests at the rate of 65 acres a day in New England, with MA losing the most forest faster. Robust reforestation has powerful carbon capture possibilities and is a powerful tool for combating climate change, so we need to make sure that we are not losing even more of our region’s forest area.
In addition, forcing people to live further away also means they are more likely to drive to work. With transportation one of the leading causes of greenhouse gas emissions , we are further damaging the environment and worsening climate change.
The housing and transportation (roads, most likely) that is being built today are part of what’s called the “lock-in” effect, meaning that they will be like this forever. We won’t have the opportunity to roll back this development for a long time, if ever. We must make the changes today that will benefit us tomorrow.
What effects might more housing in Cambridge have on quality of life or the environment?
More housing - and more neighbors! - would have a positive impact on our quality of life and the environment (see climate statement above). With more people living in a dense, transit-oriented community close to jobs and activities, we become a more creative city with the opportunity to interact with a wider range of people.
Do you support the Affordable Housing Overlay? Please explain.
Yes: The 100% Affordable Housing Overlay is a small, but important change to bring some amount of affordability to the city. I have been helping to advocate for the Overlay since 2017, so I’m very pleased that it is now before the Council. Cambridge is a high-opportunity city. We have more resources and wealth than many, many other communities. And for that reason I believe it is our collective responsibility to make sure that more families, particularly those who start out with less in life, have access to living here and enjoying all the amazing things we offer - including our beautiful city, the well-funded school district, our deep and broad network of social services, and a community that really cares about making a positive impact in the world. Housing is the first step to creating opportunity for kids and families and the AHO addresses two significant barriers to getting more subsidized housing built. It helps affordable housing developers compete against market-rate developers and it provides a reliable process that doesn’t end with a lawsuit (which happens all too frequently).
Would you support eliminating parking minimums for new housing development citywide? Please explain.
Yes: A recent MAPC study indicated that Cambridge has been building 36% more parking than is needed. Eliminating parking minimums would allow us to better utilize scarce land (and limited funds) for more housing, green space, or better transit. (https://twitter.com/abmusgrave/status/1154005279773794304)
Would you support abolishing these restrictions by establishing citywide minimum zoning that allows more multifamily housing? Please explain.
Yes: Zoning that excludes multi-family housing was originally intended to keep out low-income families and people of color. Today it serves the same end and should be abolished. Last year I hosted Richard Rothstein and an all-star panel to discuss his widely-acclaimed book “Color of Law: How Our Government Segregated America.” Over 500 people attended the event to learn that we became a racially- and economically-segregated country not by accident, but by deliberate policies enacted by our national, state and local governments. Exclusionary zoning was chief among them. These policies furthered income inequality and shut out millions of families from high-opportunity communities. We must change our policies and structures so that are creating opportunity instead of denying it. And we must be part of the national movement for an Economic Fair Housing Act.
What measures in particular should Cambridge adopt to prevent tenant displacement?
Creating more housing and curbing unjust displacement is a strong two-pronged strategy to keeping Cambridge diverse. I believe we should first focus on what we can do within the power of our city’s authority rather than pin our hopes on a home rule petition that asks our state legislature, which can barely pass a budget in time, to give us permission. We need urgent action today. To prevent tenant displacement from Cambridge, we should:
- Build more affordable housing and use our zoning code to incentivize development for moderate- and middle-income renters
- Follow NYC’s lead in establishing a Universal Access to Counsel (UAC) office, which ensures that low-income tenants have legal representation in housing court; in the first year, residential evictions declined by 27%
- Explore a condo conversion ordinance for Cambridge
- Establish a stronger partnership with HomeStart, a local nonprofit that has found it often costs only $2k to keep a family housed
- Create a publically-available online site for tenants to file grievances and code violations against landlords who fail to uphold their responsibilities or treat tenants unfairly
I eagerly look forward to the full report from the Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Task Force on Tenant Displacement to enact tenant protections, fight displacement, and provide new revenue to meet these goals. Some of these recommendations are likely to require a home-rule petition, such as reasonable eviction controls. It is my hope that we can use the recommendations to build regional support for the highest-impact home rule petitions, especially since a united coalition of cities is more influential and, thus, more likely to be successful.
What should the city do to increase walking, biking, and transit usage in Cambridge?
I am a long-time bike commuter and road cyclist, so I’m on the roads every day experiencing the potholes, the unaware Uber/Lyft drivers, and our dangerous network of roads that prioritize cars over people. With a three-fold increase in the number of cyclists on our roads - including kids and families - we must create a citywide network of protected bike lanes. Mass Ave is our most dangerous and most popular road so we need to prioritize protected bike lanes here first.
Crosswalk safety should be prioritized by including flashing lights, making sure the paint is visible, and adding more benches throughout the city.
I served as a local leader during the #UnfairHikes #FixTheT rally to push for transit improvements and new funding streams. As an elected official I will use my role to advocate for state-level improvements and push locally for change.
- Better Buses: Cambridge hosts one-third of the key bus routes in the metro area (1, 66, 71, 73, and 77). I want to make the 71/73 bus pilot project permanent and extend the 77 priority lane into Cambridge. Other key routes and high-use local routes (47 & 70) should be next.
- Kendall Sq./Cambridge Crossing: We must find new ways to get commuters in/out of this critical commercial corridor via mass transit. Priorities include the Grand Junction transit concept; pushing for Kendall Sq. T improvements, which is the 8th busiest and 5th fastest growing stop in the system; advocating for the Red-Blue line connection; and creating dedicated bus lanes in the area.
- Transit deserts: a large portion of the city is not served by any route offering all-day frequent service so we should explore and test new models, including micro-mobility options.
- Ride-Hailing: Explore options to regulate ride-hailing firms to re-incentivize public transit and reduce congestion.
What should the city do, if anything, to increase funding for housing affordability?
In the latest budget cycle we should have dedicated $20M for affordable housing. Instead, we only increased it $8M. I would advocate that future budgets include the higher threshold for affordable housing.
What other steps should the city take, if any, to encourage and fund the development of more homes, including market-rate and affordable housing, in Cambridge?
Cambridge is a resource-rich city and a job center. It’s important to me that more people, especially low-, moderate-, and middle-income families, have access to living here and accessing our city’s amazing benefits. I would advocate for the following:
Develop city-owned parking lots into workforce housing so that our middle income families and individuals can stay in Cambridge, and begin discussions with private owners of parking lots for the same purpose.
Require our local universities to house 75% of its graduate students over the next 10 years.
Discuss how density and height - especially near transit - can be used in a positive way to encourage housing production for all incomes (especially moderate- and middle-income families who have few financial supports available). Other cities have admirably integrated building height with lots of green space. For instance, of the largest cities in the world, there are five with more than 45% of public green space (Moscow, Singapore, Sydney, Vienna, and Shenzhen).
Begin discussions with the MBTA about building housing on transit stations and requiring these developments to serve low-income and workforce housing needs.
What other measures do you support that will affect housing or development in Cambridge, which you have not yet gotten a chance to talk about? (Optional)
Read more about my priorities on my website: https://www.voteadriane.com/priorities
Aside from housing and development issues, what are some major policy priorities that you hope to push for on the City Council?
We are so lucky to live in Cambridge. We are a beautiful city with immense resources, wealth, and jobs. Few communities have as much as we do, which is why I believe it is our collective responsibility to make sure that others have access to our opportunity-rich city.
I am advocating that we prioritize and fully invest in universal daycare and early childhood education (ECE). At this point, the research is clear that starting early makes the biggest difference in children’s academic achievement, health outcomes, even future earning potential.
For parents, MA has the highest cost for infant and toddler care, ranging from $20k-$40K. It’s out of reach for so many of our families, especially when many are paying too much for housing. When families can’t afford care, typically the mom steps back from the workforce, making it harder for women to advance their careers and earn the wages they deserve.
Finally, in our current system the providers - primarily women of color and immigrants - make so little money they can barely take care of their families. We should, of course, care about this problem for moral reasons. We also need to care about workforce wages because they are the strongest indication of a high-quality program.
Cambridge, the global hub of education, should be doing much more to support kids and families right from the start. Other cities are doing more. Ten years ago, Washington, D.C. made ECE a priority. Today the city has 13,000 three- and four-year olds in a high-quality public pre-school system where their providers are paid at the same rate as their K-12 teachers. We have 7,200 children in our entire school system and spend over $30k per student. We have the resources.
We need to make ECE a priority when we are planning new schools and when we are considering how to use our public space. Building ECE centers across the city or adding them to our school renovations is the best way to create universal access and raise the wages of the providers.
What have you done to advance the goals you’ve described in your answers above in your own work?
Housing is incredibly important to me because it is the foundation for a healthy, thriving family. I have done immense research over the past several years to educate myself on housing policy and what actions we can take today to make Cambridge more affordable for all of our families. In 2017 I identified the 100% Affordable Housing Overlay as the best next-step for our city to take. Since it’s been introduced in city council, I have attended nearly every hearing, information session, and community meeting to stand in support.
Rolling back a century of racialized housing discrimination and creating integrated neighborhoods here in our high-opportunity city are part of the housing challenges we urgently need to address. In 2017 I hosted Richard Rothstein, author of the widely acclaimed book Color of Law: How Our Government Segregated America, along with an all-star panel to bring more attention to how our neighborhoods were formed and why, on a micro-level, we are still a segregated city here in Cambridge. Nearly 500 people attended or watched online (https://www.abettercambridge.org/coloroflaw_video).