The New York private equity firm, Blackstone, has invested $12 billion in the larger Boston-area ($4.6 billion in Cambridge alone) n recent years, becoming by far the largest commercial landlord, according to a May 25, 2021 Boston Globe article. They and other investors are buying up prime real estate for labs that could have gone to housing, further driving up home prices, with ample-salaried employees, forcing out long time residents, and making it harder for people to afford houses here. The equity differentials are shocking. U.S. Census data shows that Cambridge has the 7th highest gap between the top 20% of earners who average $340,000 annually and the bottom 20% whose income averages $13,000 and the heaviest burdens by far are felt by Black Cantabridgians, where one third of Black home owners spent 30% of their income on housing and Black renters spent 55% of their income on housing. (Source: Cambridge Community Foundation Report as cited in the Boston Globe April 7.2021).
How can anyone afford to live here any more? Few can! Indeed, the percentage of our Black residents has dropped exponentially through gentrification in recent years. Added to this problem, Cambridge, which comprises a tiny 7.2 square miles, and is one of the top 5 or 10 most dense urban areas nationally, is already bursting at the seams. We built extensively to try to keep up, far surpassing state affordable housing minimums, and by adding large numbers of inclusionary apartments. We have lost 18% of our tree canopy in the last decade, along with critical open spaces. Our homeless population is growing too. So why is the City doing nothing to stop or counter this? We need action and accountability now!
Moreover, as one Cambridge City Councillor long affiliated with the ABC ("A Better Cambridge") Political Group which is pressing for city wide up-zoning to add more luxury housing wrote recently: "[Housing] is a regional issue....[W]e don't work well together (this is a housing, traffic, environmental and public transportation issue as well). The truth is, we could find housing for the 500 unhoused folks in our yearly census tomorrow and there will be 500 more on our streets in a week. Of course, this is not a reason not to try....but it will take more than Cambridge.... there is no easy answer. Building more housing is absolutely part of the solution, but housing alone won't do it and Cambridge can't build enough housing for every unhoused person in the Metro Boston area. It's going to take a regional effort" (Cambridgeport Neighborhood List serve: May 27, 2021). CCC agrees! And if, to this well known politician, "housing alone won't do it and we can't build enough," then why is he and others in this political group, promoting housing policies that will only make things worse for generations to come.
Sadly, TWO NewThreats to Neighborhood Stability are in play that seek to add more LUXURY Housing, likely increasing costs far higher, adding to gentrification and the loss of long term residents. This is equally valid for the current push by some Councillors to add more luxury ("market rate") housing, even though this would likely remove still more rental units, increase housing costs, and add to land values and taxes. In addition this would lead to the loss of core open spaces (that in dense neighbors are shared visually by adjacent neighbors, along with critically needed trees, and the rich and diverse historic architectural fabric of the city. So why is the City doing nothing? Because we need elected officials accountable to the people who are willing to stand up to the outside developers and investors !
NEWS on the "Missing Middle Housing (MMH) Up-Zoning Petition: The citywide up-zoning petition (misnamed the "Missing Middle" -MMH) comes again before the Council's Ordinance Committee, this is after being VOTED DOWN by the Planning Board at their May 11, 2021 meeting based on a number of grounds: the lack of affordability, concerns about neighborhood impacts, design (scale), legal concerns and turning our housing concerns over to market forces. It will not be easy to persuade City Council to vote against this damaging city-wide luxury housing up-zoning because it too is being promoted by the pro-developer ABC Political PAC.
What this petition does? 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. Who is behind this move? The MMH zoning petition has been promoted by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and others; it will principally benefit non-resident investors and developers. Worse it will jeopardize affordable housing efforts, adding ZERO housing for middle income residents. It would allow dorm-size (40 foot tall, 1.25 FAR density) structures to be built in residential neighborhoods citywide, removing critical and fast declining neighborhood open spaces and our diminishing tree canopy. No affordable housing is included, nor is there any design review for these projects. Why this matters: Even the proponents admitted that it was aimed at providing more housing for people making more than $100,000 a year. Most likely the greatest impacts will be felt in now transitional neighborhoods such as the Port, North Cambridge and East Cambridge, areas that used to be among the most diverse in Massachusetts, but gentrification is changing the community. From Alewife to East Cambridge, Kendall MIT to North Point, the impact of real estate transformation will create irreversible consequences that decide who gets to call Cambridge home. What you can do: Please write City Council at: email@example.com and CC the City Clerk at: firstname.lastname@example.orgPlease write to City Councillors voicing your views about the MMH. You can reach all of them individually through this email: If you know any of them particularly well, also write to them separately.
Sign Our Petition above or at: bit.ly/wakeupcambridge
Read our opinion piece: "The 'Offal'" Truth About Cambridge Zoning,"which details how Cambridge's zoning changes are linked to the city's factory history and to the public health problems they caused: www.cambridgeday.com/2021/04/22/the-offal-truth-behind-cambridge-zoning/
Our city's zoning history has also been addressed by Charles Sullivan, Director of the Cambridge Historical Commission, at the Cambridgeport Neighborhood Association. This video titled "Neighborhood Zoning & Development History" can be viewed at www.cambridgeport.org/history. Regardless of the origin of today's wealth disparities in Cambridge, the Planning Board seemed generally persuaded that the MMH as presented would only make things worse.
LEARN MORE: at our "Missing Middle" tab above!
READ our letter on the MMH published in Cambridge Day titled "'Missing Middle' zoning is bait and switch, Cambridge Style, and won't add affordability"
May 2021 Amendments to the MMH are found at https://drive.google.com/file/d/1xLxm-XB2DlOazES8Zavzbwrz5rCT_waO/view
The proposed Cambridge "Missing Middle Housing" (MMH) citywide up-zoning petition promoted by the National Association of Home builders (NAHB) and their allies will NOT create affordable housing but rather will displace tenants as their buildings are sold to make way for luxury developments. It would also increase density throughout the city, further diminishing of our threatened tree canopy and limited green space.
Under the false promise of providing more affordable housing, this proposal puts a bullseye on single-family and two or three deckers throughout Cambridge. How? By slashing set-backs on all sides and allowing 40 foot tall building on every property. The result: Dorm-level density allowed on even the smallest streets.
Each lot could be maxed out, including replacing an existing home entirely - all with NO design review or concern for even direct abutters. New owners could also decide to build themselves a McMansion, adding stories and additions that can tower over their neighbors. If new units are created, NO off-street parking would be required - no matter how many new cars might reasonably be expected.
This is NOT affordable housing: Only developments of 10 or more units are required to provide any affordable housing. Land and construction costs in Cambridge are among the very highest in the US; most new units would have to be luxury, not even middle-income, to make the return on investment work.
As the 10% most densely populated city 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.
Want to volunteer? email us at info@CCCoalition1@gmail.com
What will the MMH Up-Zoning Petition Change in Cambridge Citywide Residential Zoning?
-Increases to allow dorm-size residential density (FAR) everywhere: 1.25.
-Increase to residential height allowances everywhere: 40' (4 story equivalent).
-Decrease to lot size per dwelling unit, allowing: 500sqft / unit
-Decrease to front yard setbacks: 10' (unless neighboring lots are smaller)
-Decrease to side yard setbacks: 7'6" (or 5' if the neighboring lot is significantly set back)
-Decrease to rear yard setbacks: 10'
-Remove cornice line requirement on town houses, encouraging box-like flat-roofed buildings.
What will the MMH Up-Zoning also do?
-Allow for home demolitions, evictions, and displacements to add more, larger luxury housing.
-Promote the conversion of rental properties into expensive condos
-Encourage more gentrification in transitional neighborhoods
-Promote the removal of existing green spaces and our declining tree canopy.
What will the MMH Up-Zoning Petition NOT do?
-Provide more affordable housing.
-Provide design review for new home additions or new housing on existing property.
-Allow immediate neighbors to address design impacts.
-Further any of the core Envision goals.
Misinformation being Promoted by MMH supporters
-That current homes created in lower or higher zoning spec eras are somehow now "illegal." Not True.
-That demolishing a still viable home, filling up local dumpsite, cutting more trees to build bigger is good environmentally. Not true.
-That trickle-down supply-down theories re.housing work any better than for taxable income changes. Not true.
- That adding more market-rate (luxury) housing will decrease housing and rental costs. Not true (just the opposite).
What are people saying about the city-wide up-zoning "Missing Middle" proposal?
"Asking for-profit developers to fix the affordable housing problem is like asking an arsonist to put out their own fire. What is their incentive?" in "Black Response Cambridge Up-zoning Petition: 'Missing Middle' Fails for Housing Affordability" in Cambridge Day, Feb. 15, 2021.
-Stephanie Guirand, Resident of the Port, Graduate Student and Author
"The 'Missing Middle' is a blanket policy that leaves out and misses the presence of already diverse residential portfolios that the city offers and that should be enhanced and not opened up to speculative and short-sighted speed of building over quality housing. Community design review is essential to the success of any development regardless of size, by addressing the context in which it will exist and the lives it will host."
-Fabrizio Gentili, East Cambridge Resident and Realtor
There is no middle class in the city of Cambridge and there is no middle-income housing in the city of Cambridge. You are either rich or you are poor in the city of Cambridge and the City has to do a better job providing middle income housing for us."
-Greg O'Bannon. Resident of the Port. Transportation Worker
"The desired scale and density of the so-called Missing Middle has long been in place in Cambridge. Advocates for the 'Missing Middle' (including developers) many from out of town, decry the fact that many homes were built before current zoning laws, and do not meet these minimums, wanting to rebuild the entire city according to new far taller and denser zoning (now in place for dorms) and fill in open spaces between homes, removing trees and green spaces."
-Fritz Donovan, Esq. Mid-Cambridge Resident. Immigration Attorney
"The 'Missing Middle' Proposal is nothing more than a developer's money-making scheme that will result in excessive over building and will strain our already stressed infrastructure. Despite its catchy slogan. It is an over development Frankenstein, advanced without regard to real housing demands and other city needs.
-Katiti Kironde, North Cambridge, Designer
"We are the middle. There are many multi-family free standing homes that pepper the neighborhood. 'Missing Middle' will displace current residents like us so investors and private contractors can tear down our homes, eradicate our small green space and make money rebuilding at great cost that they pass on to our replacements as we join the missing. That's a construction jobs program and private developers' boondoggle, not a solution to a housing crisis."
- Phil Wellons. Riverside Resident. Consultant
MMH AND THE CAMBRIDGE HOUSING QUESTIONS
Housing costs are now prohibitive. More and more multi-family homes (often with long-time renters) are gobbled up outside developers, gut rehabbed and sold to the highest bidder, driving up neighborhood property values, along with taxes, rents and more. The whole city is being hit, and more and more of our longtime residents - including many African Americans - are being forced out.
ISSUES 2022: Housing Costs, Environment, and Smart Planning Citywide Up-Zoning Discussions are underway with a focus on our residential areas to add more Market Rate (Luxury) housing through infill housing or tearing down and replacing current homes. Thanks everyone who has been engaged on this issue. More to Come!
On Jan. 26, 2022 Another Planning Board meeting on up-zoning Cambridge residential areas. While at the outset Board Members voiced concern for the impacts of such a large up-zoning on housing affordability, the environment, and more, by the end of the meeting, with the nudging of the Cambridge Community Development Department (CDD) the ground seemed to shift. One member was OK with allowing 4-6 story buildings for more market rate (luxury) housing as of right everywhere; another was OK with cutting down mature trees if one paid into a fund to plant back small trees some where; another was OK with the density level of District C residential properties (very compressed) city wide - pushing aside current set backs, open space requirements, and other factors. This process is still in play.
On Jan. 5, Cambridge Day editor, Marc Levy, has published an article on this Planning Board Meeting: HERE
Tuesday January 18, 2022, the Planning Board took up ending our current single-family and two-family zoning restrictions to allow more market rate housing citywide. The
CDD (Cambridge Development Department) overview is HERE.
Simply up-zoning in this way to add more market rate (luxury housing) will
We had success at the last Planning Board meeting on Jan. 4! The Planning Board to the person voiced sizable concerns to CDD's Option 1 and up-zoning the residential areas more generally. They concluded that this plan must be sent back to the CDD to come up with other suggested plans. The Donovan petition proposal (the Advancing Housing Affordability plan) was viewed favorably as a good starting point by several Board members. A huge thanks to all the CCC members and friends who wrote in and spoke at this meeting. You made a big difference! The fight is not over, but this is a great way to begin this effort!
Our Op Ed "Whatever Zoning" appeared in Cambridge Day We also created this as a blogpost by this name and have been including updates at the bottom of the post. You can read and comment HERE Earlier we addressed some of the issues in our blog post on the problems about adding more market rate housing: Where to Start? Early January 2022 pro-Developer Citywide Residential Up-zoning in Play