There are many ways to look at what is happening in Cambridge with respect to housing. One way is the sheer quantity of housing units built in the city in recent years. New units are now nearing 7,000. The image below which shows this climb was created by Mike Connolly for Dennis Carlone.org. and appears in a June 7, 2015 Cambridge Day article on the surging population that the city's forthcoming masterplan was intended to address.
The above article goes on to note that "For Cambridge, the planning agency said between 3,100 and 6,200 units of new housing were needed from 2010 to 2030. But, Connolly said: “When the 1,356 housing units that have been built since 2010 are added to the 5,408 units that are currently permitted and/or under construction, it is clear that Cambridge has already built and/or permitted 6,764 units of new housing since 2010, more than enough to surpass MAPC’s [bigger] housing target for the year 2030.”
Why, we should ask, was all this new housing needed? Because our already highly dense city (now ranked number 3, 4 or 5 in the list of densest U.S. cities over 100,000, was seeking to grow some 25%-30% in size to keep up with trend for more and more companies seeking to make a home here to take advantage of our schools and amenities. As seen in another graph published in this same article the amount of anticipated population growth in this city specifically is stunning. Source: www.cambridgeday.com/2015/06/07/surges-in-city-population-and-construction-laid-out-ahead-of-a-master-plan-roundtable/
As in any urban area in the world, there are clear wealth and other inequities in Cambridge. Far too much of this disparity is defined in terms of race, a factor that also impacts housing availability, particularly housing that is affordable. This problem has seen a sizable increase by the recent arrival of high paying bio-tech, Google and other jobs, which often show notable racial differences in salaries.
As is evident to any one who bikes, walks or travels through the city today, we see sizable differences in wealth, property values, and even the costs of home ownership. The map below showing "hot" (expensive) areas of the city shows nothing that most of us don't already know far too well. (Image Source: Neighborhood Scout: Cambridge Real Estate).
There is an important history to these neighborhood differences that also need to be addressed. Some of this difference is based on history, for example proximity to the original city center (Newtowne), its market and the adjacent Harvard University. In other cases it is the legacy of the city's early industrial history that is reflected - too often coupled with federal policy that financed much needed low income housing developments in the 1960s and 1970s in the areas where factories had once thrived. It is important also NOT to forget the impact and legacy of rent control in this city; its impacts still are witnessed today in property values and rental unit availablity. The map below addresses "spillovers after rent control" and appears in a June 2014 article by Autor et. al in the Journal of Political Economy.
And let's ALSO not forget the legacy of our own city planners. This 1950-1956 Cambridge City Plan is particularly revealing.
In some ways little has changed, as can be seen in this recent Cambridge diagram for shaping the city's development.
Recall too, the impacts of all this new growth not only on housing but also on infrastructure, - from increased transportation needs (and traffic), to out-dated water mains that have burst, to greatly increased needs for electricity in certain parts fo the city.
Finally it is important to remember that we cannot just build our way out of this by tearing down historic homes or . removing green spaces and mature trees. This is at once a national, international, and regional issue. And not only must our city hold our large employers accountable for housing their employees (from biotech, to google, to our universities) but we need to come together with a truly regional approach. Cambridge - and its residents - cannot do it all. We have already well surpassed the state affordable housing goals for our city, adding a significant number of multi-family housing units. We have way out-performed some of the near neighboring cities. This is something we need to solve together.