The Affordable Housing Overlay passing doesn't mean that the work on affordable housing or general housing affordability is complete.
We have increased zoned capacity for affordable housing, which is great. We now need to continue to take steps that can build on that work. We need to do this and...
We should expand the capacity for universities to build new dorms and
We should demand more from local corporations in funding for housing and
We should implement tenant protections to protect them from badly behaving landlords and
We should find ways to build more housing in general to create more inclusionary units and
We should invest in better middle-income home ownership programs and
We should invest in rent stabilization programs for those at risk of displacement and so much more.
Thankfully, none of these solutions get in the way of the Affordable Housing Overlay proposal, and many of them are improved by it. Here are some other steps we need to take now that the Affordable Housing Overlay has been passed!
Many Say: We Should End Apartment Bans
Absolutely! We should end apartment bans! This restrictive style of zoning unnecessarily limits access to homes; even without changing our built environment, we could potentially see thousands of new homes become available. The Affordable Housing Overlay does this for 100% affordable projects, and we should eliminate apartment bans citywide, creating new zoning that re-legalizes the style of housing we already allow in our city.
Many Say: We Should Build on Top of Parking Lots
Absolutely! The Affordable Housing Overlay provides a great opportunity to create zoning to build 100% affordable housing on some city-owned parking lots. Under the overlay, these projects could proceed more quickly, and with fewer needs to pursue difficult or costly zoning changes; and could create more affordable units on city-owned property as a result. This would establish an opportunity to create hundreds of units in Central Square alone now that the overlay has passed. This is an excellent idea that the overlay will support!
Many Say: Universities Should Create More Housing
Currently, many universities do not have housing to support all their students, especially graduate students. However, because of the restrictions in Cambridge zoning, it is difficult for them to create the high-density housing that is needed to house those students. We should explore creating zoning that would open the door for universities to build more housing in the City!
Many Say: We Should Increase Our Density Along Corridors and Squares
Cambridge's commercial corridors, especially areas along Massachusetts Avenue, are a great place for us to invest in creating more housing and retail space, and the Affordable Housing Overlay addresses this by allowing greater density along those corridors. We should make thoughtful changes to allow building along corridors for market rate housing as well, especially in order to provide a greater number of inclusionary units and provide for greater retail opportunities!
Many Say: We Should Build More Social Housing
Publicly owned housing gives the maximum amount of control over housing stock directly to the public. When looking at options to expand affordable housing, public ownership can be a focus. However, any building still has to follow zoning laws in creating new homes. The Affordable Housing Overlay density bonuses make City-owned affordable housing developments more economically feasible and helps make more homes available for low-income households.
Many Say: We Should Introduce Tenant Protections
Tenant protections like just cause eviction protections, counsel for tenant disputes or eviction proceedings, and right of first refusal requirements are common sense measures that should be implemented. This is something we must work on in parallel to improving zoning! (This is primarily an area where the state legislature has the relevant authority.) The State Legislature should move as quickly as possible to provide additional tenant protections to area residents!
Many Say: We Need a Regional Solution
It is impossible for Cambridge to solve our region-wide housing emergency on its own. In order to solve it, we will need to work across the region and the state to improve transportation, remove restrictive zoning, and increase production region-wide -- but Cambridge has limited control in those decisions. The State Legislature should move as quickly as possible to take steps to address our region-wide crisis!
Many Say: We Should Spend More on Affordable Housing
Cambridge has recently increased its funding of affordable housing significantly, and we should be willing to spend more! Unfortunately, no amount of money can fix our fundamental problems with zoning. It is impossible to solve our housing crisis without changing the zoning of the parcels we build on, no matter how much money we spend, because today's zoning is just too restrictive. We need to make more space in our city for new homes.
Many say: Large Corporations Should Build More Housing
When corporations build commercial property in Cambridge, they are required to pay a "linkage fee": a fixed fee per square foot that funds the Cambridge Affordable Housing Trust. Once corporations own property in Cambridge -- whether it as a landlord or a direct owner -- those corporations pay property taxes. Rather than letting corporations decide who to house, and how to house them, we should increase property tax rates and commercial linkage fees, and have the City invest that money as a public investment in housing!
Many Say: We Should Invest in Home Ownership
In the midst of our ongoing housing crisis, solving the home ownership dilemma for low income families is incredibly difficult. To bring prices of homes available in the area to the types of prices that would be affordable for low income families would require a subsidy of hundreds of thousands of dollars per unit -- more than simply creating a new unit. Given the current reality, it is better for the city to invest in permanently deed-restricted units that act as a public resource outside the commoditized housing market for the long term.
Many Say: We Should Depend on Inclusionary Units
Inclusionary units are a valuable tool for expanding the affordable housing stock available in a City, but they can not be our only tool for providing low-income families housing, because they leave out many classes of people. Whether it is no-income earners, or other residents who fail to meet the criteria, inclusionary units serve a more narrow range of residents, and can not be used as the only solution to our affordable housing needs. They must be included in our thinking, but not our only thinking.