Cambridge Citizens coalition has led city efforts in opposing the city-wide luxury housing (market-rate) up-zoning petition because it will make things even more expensive than it is currently. Many other groups are now on board from Black Response Cambridge to Green Cambridge. We now urge CCC supporters to join us and these other groups for a rally for Cambridge housing justice on June 17 at 5:00 PM in front of City Hall.
Please also sign up to attend HERE: https://bit.ly/2RwKSz3
Read the Cambridge rally organizers statement below:
Opinion published in Cambridge Day (5.27.21). (Please make a point to Donate to Cambridge Day and other local Newspapers)
LINK to Cambridge Day article and comments
Back in the 1970s, when I took my first professional courses in real estate appraisal, I learned some fundamental things about Massachusetts communities’ real estate tax revenues that I see many other proponents of affordable housing in Cambridge clearly do not understand, to our danger. Homogeneity of building size and style is a key element of residential real estate market prices and values. More of it increases market values; less of it decreases them.
Homogeneity of interior uses (how many and who live there) is of far less influence to the value of neighboring buildings. Our state’s Appellate Tax Board has the power to lower significantly the assessment (and thus the real estate taxes) of any building where the neighborhood zoning is changed. The obviously well educated neighboring of town of Brookline was once shocked to see its real estate tax revenues lowered dramatically by the board (because he town had adopted rent controls, back before those became outlawed by statewide referendum). That lowered reasonably expected future rents, and rental income is a major factor affecting market values and thus real estate assessments and taxes payable. But any time the zoning of an adjacent or nearby building is changed – to allow more height, smaller setbacks, smaller side, front or rear yards or less tree canopy or sunlight – neighboring owners are entitled to varying degrees of real estate tax rebates. I’d rather forgo some expert testimony fees before the board than see any neighbors and our whole city suffer by my keeping quiet and not warning of these dangers.
There are far safer and better ways of providing affordable housing. Some proven examples:
My own house is on a northeast corner. Directly across the street on the northwest corner is a larger Victorian house, which – with my avid public support – was converted into a well-run halfway house for mentally challenged folks. That hasn’t hurt the market value of my house, because that house is a far handsomer Victorian than mine, and better painted. Right now, I’m hurting its market value; but its interior change has not and will never hurt me.
In 1963, at 64 Wendell St., I started a trust for – and helped buy – a vacant three-family house to be turned into a nonprofit clubhouse to house eight to 12 graduate students and working folk (including me). We converted it into one big house, sharing the living room, dining room and kitchen on the first floor and the three bathrooms, one on each floor. I lived there until getting married three years later.
These are real examples for how we can encourage affordable housing without overbearing zoning gimmicks that have inherent dangers of tax revenue reduction and unhappy citizens.
I suggest some safer, more constructive and easy approaches.
Get rid of the antiquated provision in our existing zoning limiting occupancy of any single-family house to only “people within the second-degree of kinship.”
Allow by right subdivisions of a large single-family house into separate apartments as long as there are no (or very minimal) exterior changes, such as new rear or side entrances not easily visible from the street.
Let few elderly homeowners stay where they are rather than having to move into a retirement community by adding helpful tenants or co-owners who could help them with household or personal chores.
Would this drive developers away from Kendall Square, which pays one-third of our real estate tax revenues? I don’t think so. Biotech workers want to work near other biotech workers. A biotech office in Newton would not work as well.
I had the chance to ask this of Jonathan Gray, president of the Blackstone Group, at the 2019 Yale Alumni Real Estate Conference. As the first questioner after his keynote address, I described my idea and asked if it would cause him and other office developers to flee. He laughed and said: “I think I’m the largest owner in Kendall Square. And I think something like this could be worked out.”
I now can’t imagine a better partner to help solve our housing problem at no cost to Cambridge.
Some final suggestions:
Let’s stop bragging about how our real estate tax rate gets lower every year and how high our city’s credit rating is. Scrooge had a superb credit rating, too. But until he came to rethink his values, he wasn’t happy.
Our super-low tax rate hasn’t made us happy, either. Whenever a suitable building comes on the market, why doesn’t our city buy it and convert into municipal housing for some of our police, firefighters, teachers, city hall, hospital, postal workers and clergy who’d like to live where they work?
To promote homeownership in a city where two-thirds of people are renters: In my experience, tenants can afford to pay a fixed-rate mortgage, but just don’t have the necessary down payment over the mortgage amount. Second mortgages for half the down-payment are hard to find and have super high interest rates. There’s nothing to prevent our city from becoming a reasonable rate second-mortgage lender for tenants becoming displaced. Our city borrows, via tax-free municipal bonds, at an interest rate lower than 2 percent. We could issue second mortgages to worthy longtime residents being squeezed out, at around 4 percent and, after allowing for an occasional default (which would give the city title to the property to sell to another current resident) and administrative expenses, would probably generate money. What use of city resources could be better or fairer?
The required new housing can be anywhere (Allston, Watertown, et. al.) as long as within a reasonable-commute by (required) free-shuttle bus ride or near to the developer’s new office or lab. We don’t need or want increased #s of new high-paid employees living in Cambridge, squeezing out our community’s existing tenants. Now, they won’t! The new fact that many new Cambridge employees would now NOT live here completely solves our major communal ‘being squeezed out’ problem. Commercial developers a surprisingly-willing to accept my win/win solution, because they can now profitably become residential landlords a well as commercial ones…making their business now good for everyone! Free enterprise, if properly directed by wise lawmaking, can be changed from being the problem…to becoming the solution. [last paragraph added by Mr. Myers in the Comments section].
Wake Up Cambridge!
A new attack petition, this one steeply curtailing neighborhood efforts to safeguard our rich, eclectic architectural legacy, has been submitted by an individual often allied with the local political group calling itself “A Better Cambridge” (ABC). This petition, falsely identified as promoting Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Access (what one can call the DEIA Neighborhood Conservation Assault Petition) seeks to gut Cambridge's long-standing architectural preservation models (specifically Neighborhood Conservation Districts - NCDs) that neighbors across the city have introduced to support the unique, varied mix of housing in their neighborhoods and to provide a review before demolitions can be undertaken or major facade changes can be made.
City Council will vote on a Petition received from members of the pro-developer political Pac that calls itself A Better Cambridge (ABC) seeking to gut Cambridge's long standing architectural preservation means, Neighborhood Conservation Districts (NCD), established when neighbors come together to preserve the unique eclectic mix of housing in their areas. NCDs are established after a rigorous process of review, and enable a board of residents, along with a Cambridge Historical Commission member, to review large neighborhood projects before demolitions can be undertaken or major facade changes made.
Sign our Petition: https://bit.ly/3w17ZA8
Read our Blog Post on this issue: Assault on Our Neighborhoods with regular updates with responses to our effort.
Why does this matter? Because Cambridge neighborhoods matter!! And, sadly, this is just one more effort local version of a national effort led by developers to overturn conservation districts, so that they and their rich out-of-town housing investors can do whatever they want, wherever they want. In the false name of “diversity, equity, inclusion, and access” (DEIA), the petitioners want to stop the creation of a new Neighborhood Conservation District now being discussed for the East Cambridge historic neighborhood of factory workers and immigrants. What does DEIA propose? They want to stack every Conservation District Board without asking for experience or time living in the neighborhood, and to require every District to come before City Council for regular review, modification, and re-approval. The disruptive and antagonistic methods of some of the pro-developer activists have been exactly the opposite of Zen-based DEIA principles of ethical action, transparent governance, and conflict avoidance/resolution – to say nothing of community sustainability and viability.
It also conflicts with architectural preservation efforts undertaken recently around the country to address the larger Black Lives Matter movement by adding more conservation areas honoring populations and sites earlier left out of these efforts. In essence, local pro-development supporters are co-opting and subverting this movement to do the opposite while also negatively impacting community sustainability and viability. Who benefits? Developers, monied investors, and those seeking to build large McMansions inconsistent with our long-standing local neighborhoods. This mis-named DEIA petition that seeks to gut neighborhood conservation is Step 2 of the larger assault effort initiated a few months ago with the MMH citywide up-zoning petition to add more luxury housing.
There are important economic impacts should the DEIA neighborhood conservation assault petition be ordained by City Council. This petition would principally benefit non-resident investors and developers (many of whom represent national and global financial interests), but may also negatively local businesses framed around the tourist trade and local small businesses, especially minority-owned businesses, that can exist because of the more affordable rents in older, low-scale buildings. Visitors come here keen to see and explore our unique history, and small local businesses sustain our communities. We know that our many NCDs help to keep rental and housing costs more stable than those parts of the city which lie outside these districts, but this is not just about economic issues, it is also about environmental sustainability. Tearing down structurally sound buildings instead of reusing them and updating them for new times and new uses is terrible for the environment and destroys what has made Cambridge attractive and livable for centuries. In addition, new construction too often entails cutting down trees because they're in the way.
The Conservation District movement, established around the country in the 1970s and 1980s, and the earlier historic preservation movement more broadly, came about as a means to address the wholesale demolition of properties. They have had an essential role in making Cambridge the beautiful and diverse city it is today. Without these protections, hundreds of years of careful planning and stewardship would have fallen to the wrecking ball, as they did in so many less-prescient cities. Cambridge is now recognized around the world as a great city and paragon of what civic life can be. In a country where suburban sprawl has been the norm, Cambridge's example is all the more precious. We can't allow it to be destroyed. For more information on these programs nationally see:
Protecting Older Neighborhoods Through Conservation District Programs
The developer-linked ABC political group is the SAME GROUP that recently submitted the city-wide up-zoning petition, misnamed the "Missing Middle Housing (MMH)" petition. The MMH would add MORE luxury housing, often by incentivizing replacing existing affordable rentals with newly constructed, oversized, unaffordable luxury single family homes and condos. We are grateful that, the Planning Board voted against its approval, thanks to your activism, but we are still not out of the woods with this.
As residents, we have a major stake in what happens in our city, both for ourselves and for future residents. Our city is now facing severe threats on various fronts -- resident displacement, lack of affordability in housing, the environment, overdevelopment, dysfunctional governance, and more. Neither the City Council nor the City Manager seems to be able or willing to address this, even though by area and national standards we are a very wealthy city. We are facing displaced tenants as their buildings are sold to make way for luxury buildings or developments, and our own friends and children are no longer able to rent or purchase homes here. As rampant commercial and residential construction continues apace throughout the City, we are further diminishing our threatened tree canopy and limited green space.
The City of Cambridge, founded in 1630, is one of the oldest planned European founded cities in North America. Our history, and the legacy of our rich architecture matters -- whether we are talking about workers cottages or more elite residences, workplaces, or one-time battlegrounds. It is important that we retain a key part of our Cambridge past not only for residents and visitors to enjoy today, but also so that newcomers to the city in the centuries that follow will be able to enjoy it as well. As as one of the ten (10) most densely populated cities in the country, and one with hundreds of new units already added every year under existing rules, Cambridge needs smart growth, not a modern-day land rush that displaces current tenants and and promotes the destruction of our neighborhoods. Do we want to lose our historic architectural legacy too? The DEIA petition will further exacerbate this problem.
COMMENTS on the DEIA Petition from Social Media and other response:
5.22.21 An ABC leader has tweeted a critique of our response writing that "a change to require 100 names instead of 10 names on a petition to block all development in a neighborhood is not an 'assault.' This comment is fallacious and represents a complete misunderstanding of the process of creating NGCs. Any group of residents can write a petition to create an NGC, but then the Cambridge Historical District must hear the case and vote to approve it. After that there is a circa year long study process that includes multiple meetings of people from this neighborhood, followed by a vote by the property owners within this NGC target area. Some NGCs do even not have 100 owners to sign a petition, and at the outset of this process, it is not even clear what the boundaries will be, so to create this as a proposed "condition" for NGCs is strange.
5.22.21 Saul Tannenbaum, a founding member of ABC and President of the Society for Industrial Archaeology (SIA - for which he is not speaking) writes on the Cambridgeport Neighborhood Association list serve in support of the DEIA petition. I cite the SIA website: "The mission of the Society for Industrial Archeology (SIA) is to encourage the study, interpretation, and preservation of historically significant industrial sites, structures, artifacts, and technology. By providing a forum for the discussion and exchange of information, the Society advances an awareness and appreciation of the value of preserving our industrial heritage. The Society for Industrial Archeology was formed in 1971 to promote the study, appreciation, and preservation of the physical survivals of our industrial and technological past. The word “archeology” underscores the society’s principal concern with the physical evidence of industry and technology-the study, interpretation, and preservation of historically significant preservation of historically significant sites, structures, buildings, artifacts, industrial processes, bridges, railroads, canals, landscapes, and communities"(emphasis added). Both CCC and Neighborhood Conservation Districts also support these preservation goals. Indeed East Cambridge as a former factory workers community is especially important to preserve for this reason.
5.22.21 Christopher Schmidt (from the CCCoalition Blog comments). He writes “The "ABC Leader"... is me, and I still object to the use of the language of violence to discuss a basic municipal policy change…. [I]t has to do with believing that use of harmful language to evoke violent imagery when describing municipal politics is beyond distasteful, and minimizes the extremely traumatic experiences that many members of our community have had with ‘actual’ assaults on their person. Literally, the ‘definition’ of ‘assault’ is ‘make a physical attack.’”
CCC response: we follows legacy of the New York Times and Historic Preservation discussions in honestly addressing the violent impacts of these attacks.
5.23.21. Lead DEIA petitioner, Loren Crowe, along with ABC leader, C. R. Schmidt, have tweeted about CCC’s response to their petition:
Sign our Petition HERE: https://bit.ly/3w17ZA8 to voice your opposition to this destructive, anti-neighborhood, pro-developer petition.
Read: the "DEIA Neighborhood Conservation Assault Petition" HERE: bit.ly/3w17ZA8
THE TIME IS NOW! to WAKE UP CAMBRIDGE to the potentially devastating issues of this new potentially highly destructive petition! Our future is in all our hands. Please join us by signing this petition and joining our effort.
Find out more at CCCoalition.org as things unfold - and join our efforts! Through our independent financial arm, CambridgePac, we will be supporting a slate of City Council candidates in the 2021 election. Follow our campaign at CambridgePac.org
Cambridge Zoning History - Charles Sullivan (Executive Director of the Cambridge Historical Commission) - on Factories and Zoning Facts
The city-wide MMH up-zoning petition goes next to the Planning Board (May 11, 2021 at 6:30 PM) and then to the Ordinance Committee of City Council. Get information for letters and the sign-up link to speak at the CCCoalition.org website. Follow updates on the MMH here as well.
The mis-named Missing Middle Housing (MMH) city wide up-zoning petition that will allow more luxury housing to be built in Cambridge is being promoted by the local developer-linked political group that calls itself A Better Cambridge (ABC - strongly identified with several Councillors) . One issue they keep coming back to is race, and the impact the MMH will have on racial disparities, claiming that our zoning history has largely been framed around race. Not true! The MMH Up-zoning Petition calls for a massive zoning change to build more luxury (market rate) housing at far greater density than currently allowed. It promotes the demolition of current housing, diminishes open space and tree canopy, increases traffic, and encourages McMansions and multi-story luxury duplexes in every neighborhood. It jeopardizes affordable housing, adds ZERO housing for middle income residents, and benefits investors and developers. It will do nothing to make the city more affordable to renters or buyers, and will likely make things worse. Nor does this MMH petition address or redress the actual history of zoning in this city which is based largely on the once prominent roles that factories had here.
Read CCC's opinion piece "The 'Offal' Truth about Cambridge Zoning," which details how Cambridge's zoning came about. The link is www.cambridgeday.com/2021/04/22/the-offal-truth-behind-cambridge-zoning/
Watch Charles Sullivan (Director of the Cambridge Historical Commission) talk on April 29, 2021 as he addresses this issue at the Cambridgeport Neighborhood Association. This video titled "Neighborhood Zoning & Development History" can be viewed here, introduced by former President of C.N.A., Cathie Zusy: www.cambridgeport.org/history along with the Q and A session found at the same link. Regardless of the origin of today's wealth disparities in Cambridge, the Planning Board has seemed generally persuaded that the MMH as presented would only make things worse. Even the proponents admitted that it was aimed at providing more housing for people making more than $100,000 a year. While the Cambridgeport post includes a "warning" that despite the historian Charles Sullivan's detailed analysis on the specific history of Cambridge zoning, "redlining is inextricably intertwined with the history of racism" here, it is clear that our zoning history begins with the city's important factory history and related health issues that impacted negatively those living nearby, making some areas of the city less desirable than others; and impacting everything from access to bank loans, redlining, and Federal Housing Policy . While race has been an issue in other aspects of city life, most notably economic equity, nothing in the MMH will address these issues - or the longstanding concern about affordable housing availability.
Please sign our Petition to stop this massive citywide up-zoning to add more luxury (market rate) housing. Your help makes a tremendous difference! If you know someone who has not yet signed, PLEASE encourage them to do it now. Here is the link: bit.ly/wakeupcambridge
Reposting CCC's Cambridge Day letter here. Please take the time to donate to Cambridge Day after reading! Their "SUPPORT LOCAL NEWS" link is on the front page. Thanks!!
Monday, March 29, 2021The road to hell is paved with good intentions – an old saying that comes to new life in a petition to upzone all of Cambridge called “The Missing Middle.”
Because they claim to want to create more affordable housing, its proponents have felt free to put forward fact-free arguments, as in a recent op-ed in the Cambridge Chronicle, “Zoning Should Reflect our Values of Affordability and Sustainability.” The truth is that this proposal will displace tenants by turbocharging gentrification. It will allow dorm-level density on even the smallest street. And it will further destroy Cambridge’s diminishing tree cover and green spaces.
Proponents of “The Missing Middle” claim that Cambridge is “de-densifying.” It’s hard to know what city they are referring to, since Cambridge is among the most densely populated cities in the country, with a population that is steadily growing, not declining. They want us to take “our cue” from Minneapolis, for example. This is a head-scratcher, since Minneapolis is light-years behind where we are now. It is true that Minneapolis has rezoned to allow more density, but it’s doubtful it will ever catch up to Cambridge’s density level. A comparison of the amount of open space in each city drives home the point: Minneapolis is 67 percent open space, while Cambridge is only 24 percent – making open space in Cambridge even rarer than it is in New York City!
Backers of “Missing Middle” zoning apparently believe that single-family homes as well as two- and three-deckers are a big part of the housing problem in Cambridge. They want those lots to be built out, supposedly to create more affordable units. Let’s look at the actual numbers. Single-family homes make up a mere 7 percent of the total housing stock in Cambridge. To get an idea of how low a percentage this is, compare us to Portland, Oregon (another city that they bizarrely want us to take “our cue” from) where single-family homes make up an astounding 60 percent of total housing stock.
Two- and three-deckers are iconic housing in Cambridge. Dating back to the 19th century, they represent just under a quarter of the housing units in the city.
Generations of Cantabrigians have raised their families in these homes, most of them as renters.
Under the “Missing Middle” zoning proposal, these homes could be torn down and their tenants evicted. The economics of the upzoning would make these properties irresistible to developers: Tear down a triple-decker, build out the lot, build up to 40 feet and sell the resulting three units for millions of dollars. If you believe that won’t happen, just consider that land and construction costs in Cambridge are among the very highest in the country; the way to make money in Cambridge on small lots is to build as big as possible and to sell for as much as possible. And no development under 10 units is obligated to build even a single affordable unit. It would be a modern-day land rush that makes units more expensive, not less. As a spur to endless construction, no wonder that “Missing Middle” zoning has been embraced by real estate interests and is a top priority of the National Association of Home Builders.
Let’s not overlook the effect on open space and the tree canopy. Slashing the space required between buildings means less open space and fewer mature trees. Under “Missing Middle” zoning, all setbacks (front, back and sides) are cut basically in half. Owners can also go up to 40 feet – the equivalent of a four-story building. Proponents promise that since “The Missing Middle” gets rid of the requirement of off-street parking, driveways would turn into gardens. That’s a lovely dream, but developers look to their return on investment, and roughly two-thirds of households in Cambridge have at least one car. We can wish that the cars all go away, but “Missing Middle” zoning means only that will be far more of them competing for the same number of on-street parking places.
In one moment of candor, proponents acknowledge that “Missing Middle” zoning won’t actually help the situation in Cambridge without a guaranteed “public subsidy.” In fact, they concede that without significant public expenditure, zoning for “Missing Middle Housing” will produce “neither MMH nor affordable units.” Based on their own statement, it is difficult to understand why they want to open the floodgates before doing the hard work of getting the funds to make sure their proposal won’t lead, in their own words, to “worsening the housing crisis.”
There is one area in which we agree strongly with the backers of the zoning: Cambridge needs more affordable housing. Ironically, “Missing Middle,” by making prices skyrocket, will only make that harder to achieve. As the pandemic passes, we need to look at city and commercial property that could be repurposed; we need to continue to support not-for-profit developers and homeownership programs; and we must protect current tenants.
To close with another wise saying: First, do no harm. “Missing Middle” zoning would do great harm to our neighbors and neighborhoods without adding to the affordable mix of housing. We urge the City Council to reject it.
We have a new look to match a revitalization of our core vision at CCCoalition.org!
CCC's mission is to ensure that future development sustains the health of the entire community. Through citizen activism, change is coming- without citizen activism, we would not have had a progressive city charter.
Lots is happening here, and we all need to be engaged and part of it.
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We make sure of it!
To support our important non-election work go to the Join/Donate/Volunteer page at CCCoalition.Org
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Maple Avenue Cambridge Mar. 20, 2020 GBH by Philip Martin.
Mathematician, Robert Winters has written an important February 16, 2021 post on residential density in the Cambridge Civic Journal. Winters notes that "even a relatively dense C-1 street like Cherry Street in The Port could see a 66% increase in density. Chalk Street (Res C) could see a 72% increase. Cornelius Way could have a 175% increase (that’s 2.75 times the current density). Near me, Antrim Street could go up 47%, Maple Ave. could go up 84%, and Lee Street could go up 50%. In the leafy western "suburbs", a Res B street like Appleton St. could go up 137% (2.37 times the current density) and Lakeview Ave. (a mix of Res A-1 and Res B) would nearly triple in density." Winters published the chart below of typical streets, what residential density they share now, and what density is being proposed for them in the Missing Middle Housing Petition, should it pass.
Maple Avenue, pictured above, which is in Mid-Cambridge (B and C-1 zones) is already very dense, with lots of existing MMH housing types. This street currently has a median FAR of .68, that could increase a staggering 84% if the MMH passes.
Antrim Street, pictured at the top of the CCC blog tab, also is in Mid-Cambridge (C-1). This street has a median FAR of .85. If the MMH passes, it could increase 47%. - between 1/2 and 2/3 larger than currently.
Any of the single- or multi-family houses on this street could be demolished and a larger structure 40 feet (4 story equivalent) could be built in its place.
For other Cambridge streets in our various neighborhoods, see his chart below. To determine the density increase proposed for your own home or that of your neighbors, we provide the formula below.
Curious what you will find? Check it out near the bottom of this post!
If a residence is larger than the allowable current FAR nothing is illegal. This just means the area was at one point down zoned after a certain optimum density had been reached.
What changes will MMH bring to your neighborhood? With MMH, every residence in the city would be up zoned to 1.25 FAR, larger than almost all structures in Cambridge residential areas today.
The two houses below offer important insights.
The single family East Cambridge house on the left is in the C-1 area (a home well known for its backyard “neighborhood farm”) is now zoned for 3 units. Under the MMH, but an investor could buy it, demolish this home and replace it with a large 40 foot tall modern box-style building for 13 small studio apartments (3 affordable with inclusionary. More likely there would be only 9 units created (and zero affordable to avoid Inclusionary impacts), each renting for c. $3,000 a month (not the kind of housing middle-income residents are looking for. The number of people living on this one property in an already very dense neighborhood would increase vastly. Nearby luxury town houses are beginning to appear. Bold contemporary style homes can be great if designed well, but these will likely increase the cost of housing in this neighborhood, and we would lose both this wonderful older home and its adjacent neighborhood farm.
A single family Mid-Cambridge home with a garage was recently purchased by a developer after the owner passed. This house was built as a 1 family but was converted to a 3 family about 50 years ago. Their garage is being replaced with a new infill single family market-rate (luxury) residence (see rendering on the right), built in a contemporary box-style, whose design reflects nothing of the neighboring homes. With MMH the height of the structure (now about 25 feet) could increase to 40 feet (nearly double) and without the cornice detail separating the second story from the third, mansard roof. The new structure would dwarf those around it and would be even more out of keeping with the housing fabric of nearby residences.
House in East Cambridge House in Mid-Cambridge with an Auxiliary home behind it.
How do you find the density of your own (or your neighbor's) home currently and how much it can be increased with the MMH ? Here is how you can find out what would happen to your residence or more importantly that of your neighbor, were it to be purchased, demolished, and rebuilt under MMH by an investor.
Here is what would happen to your residence or more importantly that of your neighbor, were it to be purchased, demolished, and rebuilt under MMH by an investor.
How to determine the FAR of any Cambridge residence in 3 easy steps – and how that will change
What are the core proposed changes in the MMH:
The last change would encourage large flat-roofed box-like structures in every neighborhood whether or not they fit with the homes that already exist there.
While we all want more affordable housing in Cambridge, the MMH would let investors and developers buy up property throughout the city, or add additional structures to it or in the back yard, and even demolish still functional historic housing and build new structures - all without design guidelines or review and at a density, height, and scale that often significantly differs from others in residential and mixed residential-commercial areas at present.
Repost from 29 November 2020 and edited to include tweets.
A leader of the developer-linked Cambridge ABC Political PAC posted the top left map. (and lower left) map on Nov. 29,2020 claiming that in some Cambridge residential areas apartments are actually "banned." Apartments banned in Cambridge!! Nope, rather it shows how one can lie with Maps - Trumpian style. Several months earlier, on August 7, 2020 this same person tweeted the image on the right, noting that "Of the 157 apartment buildings built in Cambridge in 1920, only 9 of them are still conforming today. The reason we can't have nice things is because we banned them. Every single apartment in this image--all built in 1920--is illegal under zoning today (enphasis ours).
"Not true! These apartment buildings are ALL perfectly legal - and have always been. None of these buildings has been banned. Moreover, we like Boston are actually swimming in available apartments throughout the city as seen in the top right Apartment Finder map of available apartments mapped out in Cambridge.
What is this all about? Who knows .but it looks like ABC wants to up-zone the whole city to make it available to developers at the same time as removing Historic and Conservation Districts as well as the ability of voluntary neighborhood groups to advocate for nearby residents on various development projects that are in play.
Cambridge Day has published as an Op Ed Open Letter to City Council on the question of conservation district impacts on property value and rental price increases. In this analysis not only is Cambridge specific data explored (a comparison of conservation district and non-conservation district price increases since 2015) but so too are a range of U.S. studies as well as a nationwide U.K. study.
This "Open Letter" was written in response a Cambridge City Council Policy Order coming up for a vote that contends that historic preservation (Conservation Districts) increase rents and should not be allowed. This order is based largely on a Sept. 10 Cambridge Chronicle op-ed, itself a reprise of a Feb. 27 blog post by a local political activist, claiming “Conservation Districts Make Housing Less Affordable.”
The longer "Open Letter" study is here: op_ed_conservation_districts_10.16.20-final.a__.pdf
This study analyzes both Cambridge property value and rent increases between 2015 and today and was able to show that Neighborhood Conservation Districts (NCD) have LOWER rents and property value increases than those areas of the city that lie outside Conservation Districts (nearly 10% lower indeed). In this letter/study the larger national and UK literature delineated by a local pro-development blogger is based on a deeply flawed analysis of the cited literature. The issue here is coming to a head with a push against historic preservation in Cambridge in an effort to enable developers to build what they want. Cambridge is one of the earliest cities in the country (1630) and one of the top five most dense cities in the U.S. with a population over 100K, we have lost 18% of our tree canopy in the last 10 years and the city is adding nearly 30% more residents. Where will they go? Allowing developers to tear down historic buildings in East Cambridge, (a one-time working-class neighborhood (where many of our ethnic emigres once lived) is not only bad civic policy but also is environmentally bad because historic preservation and sustainability are natural partners. Preservation and reuse of historic buildings reduces resource and material consumption, puts less waste in landfills, and consumes less energy than demolishing buildings and constructing new ones.
Sadly, with so much industry moving in with an array of employees with salaries far higher than long-time residents, they are forcing others out (including our one time large African American population). Basically, very few can afford to live here anymore. But the answer is NOT build more and more housing (supply and demand does not work in a place like Cambridge with two big universities) and destroying our rich heritage of historic architecture to build massive housing developments everywhere will destroy the very reason many people want to move here - to say nothing of our need to preserve this history for the next generation.
Since this "Open Letter" appeared, Mr. Crowe has responded with another blog at lorencrowe.com
Here too, each of the cases he cites again are incorrect to use in addressing the East Cambridge NCD situation
Here is the key issue: historic districts have prior historic (and other value) which is in large measure why they are approved to become historic districts, so the fact that property values in HISTORIC Districts may be higher is based on their prior value and not a priori necessarily on new value.
Mr. Crowe and others are encouraged to reread the CHC guidelines for historic and conservation districts here. They are also encouraged to relook at the actual analysis of Cambridge property value and rental increases in conservation districts vs non conservation districts – as delineated in my study.
Since this blog, Dan Eisner has responded as well on the East Cambridge Planning Team list serve arguing that the “Open Letter” UK study conclusions were based on an incomplete citation. However, the sentence immediately following the one Eisner cited on p.69 reads as follows: “…in the short-run, designation has a neutral effect on property price….It is, however, difficult to separate the determinants of the long run appreciation trend within conservation areas… without an analysis of quantity adjustments, which are outside the scope of this report. We note that from the results presented it is not possible to conclude on the (non-)existence of demand or supply driven price spillover effects of conservation areas to the wider housing market area."
Finally it is not correct that a Neighborhood Conservation District would put upward pressure on this neighborhood’s prices; based on all the other studies of conservation districts, it would do the reverse. You and others have yet to provide any contradictory evidence of this.
Suzanne Preston Blier
In the Cambridge’s proposed Affordable Housing Overlay (AHO) the increased height and Floor Area Ratio (FAR) called for will impact neighborhoods in strikingly different ways. For example, up to 94% of buildings in zip code 02138 are two to five times smaller than the proposed 2.0 FAR and 1 to 3 stories shorter than the proposed height limit.[i] This will ultimately make such properties, previously considered as homes for working class and middle-income families, attractive development targets. The scale of buildings can be categorized into five different groups based on FAR and lot coverage. The below graphic succinctly illustrates the scale of each level of development intensity, as well as the potential negative impacts of unrestrained development “as of right” in every neighborhood, without normal rights of legal appeal
Map Below: Targeted sites in each zip code for 40 unit, 4 story tall AHO projects comprise very property over 10,000 SF. Properties between 5,000 SF and 9.99 K SF could be combined or used as is for 4 story projects with fewer units. FAR of 2.0 Impacts: Using Cambridge examples from the 02138zip code, the largest of Cambridge’s five zip codes with 3318 structures, reveals how changes to FAR limits can impact neighborhood density dramatically.
The map above shows the likely target area for larger Affordable Housing Projects (40 unit, 4 story structures). Here is a clickable map, you can see the buildings areas when you zoom in:
The light lavender background is the 02138 zip code where most of these large developments are slotted to occur also will be impacted far more because currently these properties have far LOWER FAR (density, Floor Area Ratio) then elsewhere in the city and a building with a 2.0 will represent a massive density and scale change here. See the graph below for the large differential impacts of a 2.0 FAR on the cities key zip codes. The lower the graph differential the more naturally a 2.0 FAR would fit in.
An FAR of 2.0 is universally reserved for large urban densities, not for other types of residential areas as the comparison below indicates. Key parts of residential Cambridge do not meet the criteria for 2.0 FAR found in other places like New York city, Mumbai, or outlying areas of Paris.
Let's look now at the FAR context of specific Cambridge neighborhoods in 02138 where these large AHO Developments are targeted to be built. As we can see below some of these large projects would dramatically impact a local neighborhood.
Group 1 (above): 0.20 to 0.49 FAR (410 structures) = 12% of buildings in 02138. These are primarily small 1 and 2 story structures on streets where the proposed 2.0 FAR for affordable housing up-zoning can be 4 to 10 times larger than the massing of current structures, with up to 40 new units replacing existing smaller homes.