Smart Development to Reduce Displacement.

We are faced with a housing crisis that threatens the vibrant, diverse fabric that we love about our community. Our friends and neighbors are being displaced as housing costs rise precipitously in Cambridge. As we add more and more luxury housing, the rents keep going up, and at this rate, eventually only the very rich and subsidized poor will be able to live in Cambridge. Like climate change, housing is a systemic issue that needs to be addressed at its root cause. As an experienced advocate for systemic change, I am well positioned to advocate for these necessary changes on the council.

Real estate speculation is a huge problem in Cambridge and a major cause of the affordability crisis. We cannot continue to let international investors decide our fate. When people who have no intention of living here buy up properties and rent them out at steep rates or let them sit vacant, we all get hurt. And as long as they think somebody else will pay them a higher price later, they have no incentive to stop. So why don’t we tax them? If they pay the tax, we gain revenues for the city that we can use to build or buy 100% affordable housing to protect our residents from displacement. And if they don’t pay the tax, those housing units are available on the market for actual residents to buy and live in.
Earlier this year, we celebrated a major victory: the inclusionary zoning requirement for developments of 10+ units was increased from 12% to 20%. While this is great progress, it does not reduce displacement for middle income households. We should add an additional 5% inclusionary zoning requirement for middle income households and families, including 2 and 3 bedroom units. Without active protection, middle income households will continue to decline in Cambridge, leading to growing economic inequality and a loss of diversity in our city.

In 2015, the city raised linkage fees from $4.58 to $12 per square foot of new development (escalating to $15 per square foot by September 2018). This update was long overdue and sorely needed. However, the Nexus study and feasibility assessment that was done at the time actually found that the city could go as high as $24.30 per square foot. Accordingly, Cambridge should set the linkage fees on an escalating schedule to eventually reach $24.30 per square foot, which would generate millions in additional funding for affordable housing in Cambridge.

I am glad that MIT is developing the 14 acre Volpe site because they are a forward-thinking community partner, but the most recently presented plan is uninspiring. I have spoken with many Cambridge residents and MIT students on this issue and this proposal does not yet meet the needs of our community. As a non-profit, MIT should build more than the minimum 20% affordable housing on the site, and should include middle income housing as well. The buildings should be built net zero ready (highest standards of energy efficiency) and there should be welcoming open space that includes preservation of all the mature trees on the site. Also, MIT should commit to building graduate student housing on other sites they already own for this purpose, and should commit to keeping the TSC daycare where my children were wonderfully well cared for when they were little. TSC has been an important East Cambridge institution since 1986, and provides an important service to the community.
Vail Court is an abandoned property in Central Square which was taken by eminent domain last fall. This is a unique and tremendous opportunity for the city to build 100% affordable housing just steps away from the T and everything else that Central Sq. has to offer. By eliminating surface parking on the site, we could incorporate significant green space in the design. And the buildings should be net zero emissions in accordance with the city’s commitment under the Net Zero Action Plan to reduce climate change causing emissions from municipal buildings to zero. Last, but not least, we have an opportunity to provide shelter for international refugees. In this particular case we can truly have it all. Because we are committed to addressing the affordable housing crisis in Cambridge, we must make the most of this rare opportunity.