What do you think are the causes of Cambridge’s high-priced housing market?
There are a combination of causes. Cambridge’s tremendous resources, economic growth, commercial development, and desirability creates the demand for housing, which has outpaced supply. Consequently, prices have increased significantly. As the 2015 Nexus study states Cambridge is “experiencing a sustained and severe affordable housing shortage, because demand for affordable units is outstripping the supply of housing affordable to low and moderate income households, and increasingly middle income households.” The 2019/2020 nexus study will no doubt show the same and perhaps an even greater shortage. The 2015 Nexus study also pointed to the need “to mitigate the effect of new large-scale Cambridge commercial developments on creating additional demand for housing in Cambridge because they increase employment in the city.” Further, as the Envision Cambridge report outlines: “following the end of rent control, decontrolled rents skyrocketed, increasing by around 40% in just three years, starting a trend that set the stage for today’s affordability crisis.” Due to a boom, the conversion of rental units to condominiums led to a significant loss of rental units as well.=All together, these current and historical trends continue to be a factor in the availability and cost of housing in Cambridge.
How have high housing prices affected Cambridge and the surrounding region?
High housing prices, both in Cambridge and in the surrounding region, have resulted in higher levels of displacement, and an exodus of middle-income residents and families. While Cambridge homeowners benefit from rising prices through increased home equity, rent increases present a significant challenge for Cambridge’s renters. Such steep rent increases have forced tenants out of their homes. The 2016 Inclusionary Housing Study showed that the gross household income needed to affordably rent a Cambridge 1-bedroom is now more than $100,000. This is above the income thresholds for most Cambridge housing assistance programs. HUD’s Comprehensive Housing Affordability Strategy (CHAS) shows that Cambridge’s high housing costs leave roughly 40% of households cost-burdened, meaning they spend 30% or more of their income on housing. The inclusionary study further states that “increasing unaffordability also threatens to destabilize families and neighborhoods, as those unable to afford rapidly rising rents in market-rate housing must search for homes in less expensive areas.As price distinctions between Cambridge neighborhoods have increasingly eroded, the entire city faces a displacement crisis caused by rising values.” This is similar across nearby cities in the region.
What housing options currently exist for low-income tenants who are not high on the affordable housing waitlists? How can Cambridge help them?
Unfortunately, very few housing options exist for low-income tenants who are not high on the affordable housing waitlists. We can help them by assisting with housing searches and providing support to our nonprofits fighting to keep more Cambridge residents in the city. Cambridge has non-profit housing, which includes units in developments created and/or owned by non-profit developers as well as scattered-site homeownership units. There is public housing, which includes both state and federal units that are owned and managed by the Cambridge Housing Authority. There are also affordable units that have been created under the inclusionary provisions in the Zoning Ordinance and similar zoning-based provisions. Finally, we have private housing which refers to affordable units located in privately-owned properties, including limited equity cooperatives. Waiting lists for all of this housing are all long.
Our Multi-service center assists homeless individuals, those who are at risk of becoming homeless, and Cambridge individuals or families in need of short-term counseling, assistance with housing concerns or referrals to a variety of services, including shelters. In addition, we have the the Carey transition Housing program that offers case management and rooms for homeless men for a transitional period in partnership with the YMCA.
Ultimately, Cambridge has to build more affordable housing and work with other cities so that they do the same. The Metro Mayors Coalition (15 cities and towns including Cambridge) will need to add 185,000 housing units in order to meet demand and reduce – or at least stabilize -- housing costs.
How does new market-rate residential development affect the affordability of Cambridge? How does new affordable housing affect the affordability of Cambridge?
New market rate housing plays a role in Cambridge but we should be studying further its impacts. New market-rate housing is attracting and accommodating new higher-income households migrating to, rather than moving within the City. It is important that those high income earners have places to live so that there is less competition for units. We need to analyze how market rate residential development has affected affordability of Cambridge, because Cambridge is such a unique market. The 2016 inclusionary housing study indicates that “owners and property managers of newly developed market-rate housing have confirmed that the majority of new residents moving into their properties are not existing Cambridge residents, but are moving from out of state or from other communities. The market rents and sales prices in these properties far exceed affordable levels for low, moderate, or middle income households. The result of this migration into new market-rate units in Cambridge is a decrease in the City’s diverse demographic profile. This migration will result in a continued decrease in the proportion of lower-income residents if current trends continue. In order to maintain, let alone increase, current levels of economic diversity in Cambridge, measures will need to be taken to maintain a stock of affordable housing that is sufficient to offset the current influx of high income residents.” I do think market rate development is a useful tool and has helped build more affordable units. We should think about all of its implications in Cambridge.
What is the relationship between the twin crises of climate change and housing unaffordability? How can Cambridge address both?
As affordable housing options become scarce, the more people who work in Cambridge are priced out and forced to move further away, resulting in both sprawl and longer commutes, and subsequently increased emissions. To address the issue, we need to prioritize infill housing, and allow new housing construction in Cambridge, while simultaneously encouraging alternatives to single-rider vehicles.
What effects might more housing in Cambridge have on quality of life or the environment?
This depends on the type of development. Low-density sprawl takes a much greater toll on air quality and results in more water use. A survey conducted by the Center for Urban Policy Research found that compact development results in a 30 percent reduction in runoff and an 83 percent reduction in water consumption compared with conventional suburban development. If low-density development continues, it will continue to encroach on important natural resources and existing open green space. Sprawl also results in increased emissions, as people commute farther from home to work. Higher-density development offers the better option to manage growth while protecting clean air and water by placing new developments in areas where the most infrastructure already exists to manage air and water quality. If more housing in Cambridge is achieved by relaxing exclusionary zoning laws and prioritizing high-density housing development, it will have a positive impact on the environment. Also, high-density housing construction results in neighborhoods that are economically diverse and include a mix of housing, businesses, and green spaces, making communities more vibrant.
Do you support the Affordable Housing Overlay? Please explain.
Yes: I view the overlay as one tool to help create more units in a market where it is very difficult to build affordable housing.
Would you support eliminating parking minimums for new housing development citywide? Please explain.
Yes: Eliminating minimum parking requirements reduces the cost of producing new housing and enables builders of housing to use land more efficiently by replacing spaces for cars with spaces for people.
Would you support abolishing these restrictions by establishing citywide minimum zoning that allows more multifamily housing? Please explain.
Yes: Exclusionary zoning limits housing supply and has often resulted in economically and racially segregated neighborhoods. Minneapolis, which eliminated singe-family zoning earlier this year, can serve as a guiding example for ending exclusionary zoning. Previous zoning laws prohibited multi-unit construction in sixty percent of neighborhoods, leaving the city with limited options to address the housing shortage and build additional housing for low and mid-income residents. By allowing residential structures with up to three units in every neighborhood, Minneapolis will be able add density to single-family neighborhoods, promote environmental sustainability and undo segregationist housing policies. The zoning change is also expected to lower average housing costs across the city by addressing artificially high demand.
What measures in particular should Cambridge adopt to prevent tenant displacement?
I support increasing legal resources for those at risk. The City must also investigate barriers facing renters who use subsidies and other sources of income, and explore creating a hotline for renters being turned away for trying to use a subsidy or other source of income to pay for housing. The city should update our inclusionary housing preferences - our current system does not prioritize resident applicants with an emergency housing need, nor does it include domestic violence as an emergency. We can also incentivize landlords to keep the rent below market, but a home rule would be required for a municipality to implement any tax abatement or exemption program.
I support rent stabilization measures. Prior to the enactment of Chapter 40P many municipalities had successfully petitioned the legislature for authority to enact rent control but now with the enactment of Chapter 40P the MA legislature may not be favorably on a home rule petition that is in conflict with the broad prohibition against rent or eviction control. It is important to note that Chapter 40P section 4 permits voluntary rent control provided that the city adopting such a regulation must compensate owners of rent control units for the difference between the unit’s fair market rent and the unit’s below market rent controlled rent. The compensation would have to come from the general fund. The voluntary regulation would exclude regulation of evictions, condominium conversion, and cannot apply to an entity owning less than ten units or that has a fair market rent exceeding $400. The City Council also has the power to provide tenant protections that are greater than the protections provided under the State Condominium Conversion Act.
Municipalities may develop their own relocation assistance programs To support tenants who have been displaced if they plan to use only local public funds to support it but Cambridge could not require landlords to provide relocation assistance without a home rule.
What should the city do to increase walking, biking, and transit usage in Cambridge?
To increase transit usage, we need to improve the efficiency and increase the reach of public transit. To improve efficiency, I support the creation of separate bus lanes on major corridors. This will make bus routes run more smoothly, creating an incentive for commuters who currently get to work in single-rider vehicles to switch to a more environmentally friendly and traffic-reducing alternative. I also support measures to reduce MBTA fares. Our ultimate goal should be to eliminate fares altogether, and move towards a system of free public transit; the price of a train ride shouldn’t keep anyone from making it to school or work. I am also supportive of shuttle bus service.
This term, I have promoted traffic-calming measures and improvements to our bicycle infrastructure. To increase bicycle ridership and decrease motor vehicle speed, I supported the “Cycling Safety Ordinance.” To improve pedestrian safety, I co-sponsored a policy order to identify traffic-calming and safety features for the Fresh Pond Mall area as the current conditions in the lot compromise pedestrian and bicyclist safety by failing to clearly separate where vehicles should travel and where to expect pedestrians and cyclists moving safely. I co-sponsored the Cycling Safety Ordinance, which requires the City to construct permanent protected bike lanes on all streets identified for reconstruction under our Five Year Sidewalk & Street Plan. I also co-sponsored a policy order supporting the implementation protected bike lanes on Webster Ave, Museum Way, O’Brien Highway, and Craigie Bridge. To protect pedestrians in congested areas, I joined a colleague in installing a pedestrian Super LPI at the intersection of Mass Ave, Prospect St., and Western Ave to give pedestrians a 10-15 head start on traffic.
What should the city do, if anything, to increase funding for housing affordability?
This term, I joined my colleagues in advocating for a real estate transfer fee and requesting a home rule petition. If the petition is granted, the transfer fee will apply to residential and commercial properties sold for more than $2 million dollars, and the funds raised will be allocated to the Cambridge Affordable Housing Trust. I am in favor of certain exemptions, such as transfers involving seniors or first-time home buyers, or transactions between family members.
Additionally, I look forward to using a percentage of potential new revenue sources related to local option taxes from short term rentals and recreational marijuana, and a plan to double or even triple the amount of capital funds committed to create affordable housing within 3-5 years.
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?
Future city budgets should have a specific section on what the City is doing to combat tenant displacement. We should contribute more funding to Homebridge, a program to assist first-time homebuyers to purchase a home in Cambridge. Eligible buyers receive financial assistance for a portion of the price of the home; in exchange, they enter into an affordable housing restriction. Currently, the program funds applicants who earn at least 60% and no more than 100% of Area Median Income (AMI) but funds for households earning between 100% and 120% AMI are not currently available.
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)
Undergraduate (MIT) and graduate (MIT and Harvard) students consume a significant portion of the housing in Cambridge, and because they often reside in Cambridge for a shorter period of time while expending significant financial investment in their education, their willingness-to-pay is higher than the longer-term residents’.The student population in Cambridge has increased dramatically over the past fifteen years, and has outpaced on-campus housing construction. Today, an estimated 7,703 students live in non university-affiliated housing, placing a serious strain on our city’s housing supply, and this increase in demand has driven up housing prices. To address this, I support working with our universities to build affordable housing for their students, particularly graduate students, and explore new housing partnerships. By building taller, more dense, housing units that encompasses most/all of their students, Harvard and MIT can help ameliorate the problem of heightened demand for housing in Cambridge.
Aside from housing and development issues, what are some major policy priorities that you hope to push for on the City Council?
As Chair of the Economic Development and University Relations committee, I’ve pushed for more funding for our workforce development providers, including the Cambridge Housing Authority’s Work Force program, which helps low-income students broaden their horizons and create their own pathways to educational and economic success. By increasing funding to this and similar programs, we can connect residents of all backgrounds and skill-levels to jobs that pay a living wage. To facilitate transparency and communication between workforce development providers, I am working to create a Workforce Development Consortium. To keep our retail areas vibrant, I have advocated for the development of a Vacant Storefront Registration policy. Long-term vacancies can be harmful for surrounding businesses, and this policy will allow us to track vacancy data and determine how to hold commercial property owners accountable.
I have also pushed for a Cannabis Equity Ordinance, to ensure that those who were disproportionately affected by the War on Drugs will benefit from the economic opportunity this emerging industry presents. We must figure out ways to ensure that people of color who have been left out of the legal cannabis industry can meaningfully participate, and one of these ways is priority in licensing.
This term, I have also served as Co-Chair of the Human Services and Veterans Committee. I’m especially proud of my work to implement a Children’s Savings Account program. These long term savings or investment accounts will soon be available to every kindergartener in Cambridge, and help families build dedicated savings for post-secondary education. I’ve also pushed to increase scholarship funding ($1.1 million) for low-income children to attend high-quality preschools. Access to educational opportunity is essential not only for our young people, but also for the health of our community. If re-elected, I will continue to stand at the forefront of these issues.
What have you done to advance the goals you’ve described in your answers above in your own work?
I secured the funding to hire a new full-time housing attorney for one of our housing providers, who represents those at immediate risk of displacement, at one of our local legal aid providers. I also supported the development of a City Housing Liaison position. This role will support clients at risk of displacement, work with landlords, management companies and affordable housing providers, and serve as a point person for the City when there are threats of multiple-tenant evictions. I helped establish and then chaired the Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Task Force on Tenant Displacement, which sought to identify where the greatest funding needs exist in fighting tenant displacement, and has recommended that supplemental funds should be allocated for legal aid services, housing stabilization and tenant education. The Task Force is also analyzing the impact of condo conversion on tenant displacement, and is exploring options for strengthening condo conversion regulations. We sought a legal opinion on home rule options, which concluded that Cambridge can pursue a local ordinance to provide stronger tenant protections relating to condo conversion. The Task Force will be releasing a series of recommendations that incorporate many measures.
I have also worked with our legislators to fight for measures like a right to counsel and eviction sealing, which would go a long way towards preventing resident displacement. We also need to think about building on our parking lots, which many cities are doing.
I have also been working with residents, staff, and the owner of the Fresh Pond apartments to make sure we preserve those 505 units as their affordability restrictions are set to expire in 2020.