ALTERNATIVE VISION: Fred Meyer on "An Alternative Vision to Prevent Tenant-Displacement in Cambridge" Cambridge Chronicle 8.15.19
Most longtime lower-wage residents here can't compete, for rent-paying, with the ultra-high wages now being paid employees of new offices and labs staffed with MIT-and-Harvard-style professionals. Here’s a solution to combat this unfair displacement: Let's simply require all creators of new office, educational or lab spaces to create corresponding new apartments… equal to the number of people who will work in the new (or newly-renovated) structures.
All this plan needs to work is this new zoning provision: The new apartments, if they can’t be sited within, say, a 1-mile walk of their workplace, must be served by free landlord-provided work-hour shuttle buses. Some employees will, of course, prefer to (say) ride the train in from Wellesley… or buy a condo instead of renting. So, the unclaimed apartments shall then be opened to other, non-employee Cambridge applicants, entitled to pay no higher rents than employee-tenants play. This provision will increase, instead of decrease, local rental housing…at no cost to our taxpayers!
Kendall Square’s real-estate developers, Harvard and MIT surely will squawk and lobby hard against this proposal. But we’ll win, because they need Cambridge far more than Cambridge needs them….and we vote, and they don't…so we're in the far-stronger negotiating position. Further, these adversaries, with their enormous wealth, can easily afford to fund our fair proposal. Think about it: in the past, haven't our adversaries truly been inconsiderate, or even cruel, to our city's ordinary working folk, for the displacement they’ve been causing so many to endure, for so long now?
Another solution: Some older owners of huge single-family houses here might love to have tenants in a new apartment (or two) created somewhere within their home (perhaps in basement or attic)…to have help with household chores or money for retirement. Unfortunately, our existing zoning for single-family houses does not readily allow that. Why not? Let's simply allow single family houses to be converted to more units…as long as the exterior facade of the house is not changed (except for new entrance(s) not readily visible from the street).
Another realistic solution: Why can't a single-family house be turned into a co-housing community, like one I created in 1963 (before zoning tightened) at 64-66 Wendell St. There we remodeled the interior of a huge empty existing house for my communal-living non-profit group…creating a large shared LR, DR and kitchen… still serving a dozen happy residents who live in 9 bedrooms and share 3 baths. That’s actually the third house this non-profit residential cooperative has moved to…since 1943!
Or consider the handsome Victorian house at 79 Hammond St. that's now converted into a Cambridge Housing Authority communal Halfway-House. (Our current zoning now allows such sensible conversion only for folks who are handicapped. Why that severe limitation? Shouldn't communal living also be permitted any responsible adults who'd like it? [Potentially-noisy undergraduate fraternities are the reasonable exception.]
My own single-family house right next door is now worth 50 times what I paid for it, back in 1971. Why aren’t I taxed more than I now am…to help much-less-lucky people? Why is our city's tax rate always lowered (never raised) every year? Is that truly moral…or wise?
Since our longtime tenants obviously face so many gentrification-pressures today, why doesn’t our city provide ‘rent scholarships' for worthy city employees, low-paid child- and elderly-care and social workers, and clergy?
Why do only 1/3 of Cambridge residents ever get to enjoy the financial security/wellbeing of homeownership? Why don’t we create a long-term goal of turning the majority of Cambridge residents into homeowners?
City-provided below-market-rate second mortgage would be a sensible (and profitable) goal for this city.
Why instead, are we trying to rush thru super-complicated blanket citywide rezoning…that enrages our uniquely differing neighborhoods? And that hopes to give to only 30 low-income tenants per year an incongruous higher building… with less open space and trees than their neighbors all have!
Sure, there must be subsidized housing…but, if it’s to be more moral, it should look just like its neighbors …and not look higher or more crowded-than they. Years ago, we used to give very visible ‘food stamps' to feed the needy. But now, to avoid any stigmatization, we’ve wisely switched to government-paid vouchers that look exactly like ordinary credit cards.
Isn’t this a fairer and more-effective plan for creating affordable housing in Cambridge?"
Fred Meyer is a real estate appraiser…past president of the Cambridge, Greater Boston & Massachusetts Realtor® Associations