Cambridge Citizens Coalition
This afternoon CCC was forwarded a letter in support of the Affordable Housing Overlay (AHO) by an advocate that was forwarded to local list serves and to City Council. We want to share with you our opposition to what is being stated in this letter about the overlay and opposition to the overlay proposal itself.
The text of the original letter is in black; CCC’s responses are in red
Dear Friends and Family,
For the last 15 years I have worked on affordable housing issues…. The Greater Boston region is one of the priciest housing markets in the country and I believe that we have room to grow in Cambridge that will make our city more economically and racially diverse.
We need much more affordable housing in Greater Boston—The region is not building the units necessary to support population growth particularly for people earning low to moderate incomes including young people, teachers, firefighters, small business owners and others.
+The city of Cambridge, is well ahead of state mandates for affordable housing construction. Our neighboring cities in Greater Boston are way behind us on this. Yes we need affordable housing, but the AHO is NOT the way to go. It is a deeply flawed proposal, and a highly risky one. Nowhere else in the country has this been tried.
The proposal make sense for Cambridge because:
We have good access to public transportation--T, commuter rail and frequent bus service meaning fewer people will rely on cars.
+Many parts of Cambridge that the AHO covers do NOT have good access to public transportation, and this transportation at its best is inadequate much of the time. Many people living in affordable housing need to work to pay a portion of the rent, and often these jobs are at night, or in places not accessible by public transportation.
Many neighborhoods have little affordable housing--it tends to be concentrated in places that were redlined by the federal government in the post WWII--a policy that created many of the segregated. neighborhoods we see in our city today.
+Unfortunately these areas of the city also frequently are the most expensive properties in the city and have the largest green spaces and number of mature trees. Purchasing properties in these areas is less financially viable for affordable housing than less properties which have less value. Moreover we have lost some 22% of our tree canopy in the last 10 years. The AHO will allow the removal of mature trees here and elsewhere in the city. Not only must we preserve our trees, but we also need to find other places in the city to plant even more trees. The sizable setback cutbacks in the AHO make mature tree growth (even for new trees) very difficult.
The AHO can help to provide housing to middle income residents. Since the end of rent control, the middle class has been squeezed out of Cambridge by high housing costs. The AHO defines affordable as 100% of area median income which is $113,300 for a family of 4.
+The AHO will bring very little relieve for middle income residents. The majority of the AHO units will be for those making 30-40% of AMI, and in some cases those who meet Section 8 housing requirements. Furthermore, we now have 19,000 people on our affordable housing list, so to put out the false promise that this will help things is unfair. The Cambridge Community Development department itself has said that the AHO is likely to bring between zero and 40 to 60 units a year – hardly enough to help the many middle income earners in need of less expensive housing in the city.
The AHO doesn’t throw out the public process rather it allows 100% affordable projects to go through the normal permitting process rather than the variance process. The planning board reviews projects and allows for public comment. The AHO doesn’t allow for endless litigation which can make it difficult for developers to afford to build 100% affordable housing projects.
+Opponents to the AHO have never stated that the AHO “throws out” the public process, instead we have correctly pointed out that the current Oversight role of the Planning Board will be diminished to an advisory role only. Currently developers have a real interest in working with neighborhoods to get the best design possible because the Planning Board often will support design choices of local residents and because if the developer and the neighbors do not agree, there is always the treat of legal action. The AHO removes current citizen legal rights of appeal, leaving the final decisions on design, and other things to the developer and the unelected city manager.
The AHO will not transform Cambridge. It is really difficult to put financing together for 100% affordable housing projects. Developers need a combination of public and private funds through the low-income housing tax credit, rental voucher programs and other vehicles to make the project work financially. And because developers cannot charge rents that would make tenants or homeowners cost burdened (paying more than 30% of their income in housing) they have to get the financing to allow them to offer below-market rates while still being able to afford to build the project.
+True, however the city has been extraordinarily successful in adding affordable housing through the current inclusionary plan without the need to up-zone the whole city, allow the demolishment of trees, and remove current citizen rights of appeal. Cambridge has met and beat significantly state affordable housing mandates through this means, and are way ahead of neighboring cities on this.
I share people’s concerns that the projects could be ‘ugly’ but I find that is true with any development. There are plenty of market rate developments near Huron and Concord that I find ugly---the project going up on the corner of Concord and Walden is one example. But there are others that fit in with the streetscape like the one behind the store fronts on Concord Avenue near Huron. The AHO proposal has design guidelines that follow the idea of form-based code put forward by the New Urbanists—an organization that focuses on making cities livable and walkable.
+The “ugly” buildings that have gone up already, at least have met current design review requirements, and neighborhood insight. Alas, the AHO proposal does NOT meet New Urbanist form-based code guidelines. Not only will this housing NOT be built exclusively along the main city corridors and squares near transit hubs, as recommend in the Final Report of the city’s recent Envision Process, but form-based codes are created after considerable consultation with the neighborhood members where it will be built. None of this has happened in Cambridge with the AHO – and nor will it likely be done.
And finally increasing density (by allowing up to 4 stories in most residential parts of the city) will contribute to reducing climate change. By allowing more people to live closer to public transportation, we’ll need fewer cars. Now many owners and renters are forced out of Cambridge, often into the far suburbs, contributing to clogged traffic on our region’s highways and all of the pollution associated with gridlock and driving.
+Allowing up to 4 stories (45 feet and 50 feet if there is an active ground floor, or 7 stories along the main corridors) will NEGATIVELY impact the environment – adding further to climate change. NO on site parking is being required, meaning that all these residents will need to find parking on the street. Some of these developments will be very large (44 units or more) and many of these residents will need cars if they need them to get to work, or if they have physical mobility problems or for other reasons. The removal of mature trees and green spaces will further the negative environmental impacts. Cambridge is already top five most dense cities in the U.S. with populations over 100,000. And we are a very historic city, with the potential to have many of our rich historical architectural heritage lost to massive big box housing, “ugly” or otherwise.
I urge you to support the Affordable Housing Overlay for Cambridge.
We urge you NOT to support the Affordable Housing Overlay for Cambridge.