Housing Affordability is More Complex Than Many Give Credit. by Mike Nakagawa* Housing Affordability is more complex than many give credit. If you follow the Freakonomics book/podcast/radio program, you quickly find "common sense" often doesn't apply when economics is involved, particularly when it's not apparently involved. (stick with me for a couple sentences before I move on) YIMBYs often point to the "Law of Supply and Demand" to profess that increasing supply necessarily decreases prices. But there is no such economic law; there are two laws, one of supply, the other of demand. Lower Prices from increased Supply will occur only if Demand is held Constant. But what if increased supply encourages more businesses to move in to the city, creating more demand? According to wikipedia, Cambridge has the fourth highest population density of any U.S. municipality over 100,000 people. We are exceeded by New York City; Patterson, NJ, part of metro-NYC; and San Francisco. Patterson was ranked 3rd worst city to live in by 24/7 Wall St, and San Francisco and New York were ranked top and 2nd most expensive American cities by Inc. Which direction are we heading? While having higher density than most suburbs has many benefits, I think there is a limit to how much density makes a sustainable city, particularly as we exceed the capacity of both natural systems and our built infrastructure. I think we should sustainably build up some of the less affluent suburban cities that are near transportation infrastructure, such as Woburn and Waltham which have not only highway access but more importantly commuter rail lines, then convert those limited access right-of-ways into frequently serviced express transit connections to/from the urban core, such as with bus rapid transit. People who don't want a car can then choose to live in the urban core and be able to get to a suburban office, or live in a sustainable/walkable/ bikeable mid-density town and quickly get to an urban core job, or work in the suburbs but still be able to get to city amenities. It only takes 15 minutes to get from Woburn to Boston without traffic getting in the way. We need to consider the demand side of our housing problem, not just our supply side. What are the real drivers of demand, and what other ways are there to satisfy them? My company is moving 2000 employees from Andover to Cambridge Crossing next year because of difficulties getting car-less recent tech grads, such as my daughter and her classmates, to work so far out. The commute will undoubtedly make people with high paying jobs want to move closer to work, driving up housing costs. And I can tell you most people who have chosen to buy a house in the suburbs like their plot of land to mow each weekend and don't want to live as us city dwellers do. But suburbia doesn't need to mean strip malls, huge parking lots and general sprawl; they could build up more sustainably, in a planned way, get some economic benefit, help the environment, and really help the regional housing problem that can't be solved by one city's housing efforts alone. Plus, they don't need to address rising sea levels, and can build with climate resilience in mind. Cambridge is trying to build thousands of more affordable housing units just to accommodate the people displaced by more affluent people moving in, let alone others who want to come in. This is not sustainable, so we need to come up with a real plan that is sustainable. While we should certainly make reasonable allowances to accommodate more housing, we need to make sure we don't permanently add to unsustainable development practices in the meantime. *The author lives in the North Cambridge area. He published this on Next Door -6.18.19).
Who We Are Cambridge Citizens Coalition was founded by local neighborhood group leaders and is led by them along with other local civic activists and residents dedicated to smart development, thoughtful city planning, good governance policies, sustainability, housing affordability, and the preservation of our trees, green spaces, and historic architecture.
Contact us at CCCoalition1 at gmail dot com. or by mail at P.O. Box 410291, Cambridge, MA 02141.
Land Acknowledgement: We acknowledge and honor that Cambridge sits on the traditional homelands of the Massachusett people. We also acknowledge their close neighbors and relatives, the Nipmuc and Wampanoag peoples.