December 8, 2023

The Boston Globe

The amendments, which handed the council on a 6-3 vote, mark one of many extra formidable native efforts to handle the inexpensive housing disaster in Massachusetts.

The location of the Jefferson Park public housing advanced, which can be redeveloped by Cambridge’s Inexpensive Housing Overlay. David L. Ryan/Globe Employees

The Cambridge Metropolis Council on Monday night time handed controversial modifications to the town’s landmark inexpensive housing regulation, doubtlessly paving the way in which for taller, denser inexpensive housing improvement within the metropolis’s main squares and corridors.

The transfer, which handed the council on a 6-3 vote, marks one of many extra formidable native efforts to handle the area’s housing disaster, going additional than insurance policies elsewhere in Massachusetts to bolster the event of deeply inexpensive models. Tasks which can be comprised fully of inexpensive models will now be allowed to be as tall as 15 tales within the metropolis’s main squares, and initiatives as tall as 12 tales on corridors like Massachusetts Avenue.

“On the finish of the day, there is no such thing as a magic wands, there [are] no fast fixes. There are not any silver bullets that may resolve our inexpensive housing disaster,” stated Councilor Denise Simmons, who supported the amendments. “However with instruments like [this], we’re creating alternatives for this critically wanted housing to be constructed — houses to be constructed.”

However it was not with out critical objection. Some metropolis councilors and residents raised concern that the modifications to the coverage, often called the inexpensive housing overlay, had been developed with out sufficient group enter, and that they could result in rampant improvement of tall buildings throughout the town.

It additionally raises the stakes of the upcoming metropolis council elections in November: a slate of candidates have cropped up in opposition of the council’s latest efforts to speed up housing improvement, and say the election can be one thing of a referendum on these insurance policies.

“That is Russian Roulette zoning,” stated Councilor Dennis Carlone, who opposed the amendments. “Nobody is aware of what website goes to be bought. Whether or not it’s on Broadway, Cambridge Avenue… Nobody is aware of till the day it will get introduced. And to me that’s towards what the precept of zoning is all about.”

The formidable new coverage and the controversy surrounding it spotlight simply how tense the controversy round housing has grow to be in Cambridge lately.

As tech and biotech improvement has flourished over the previous couple of a long time, rents in Cambridge have climbed larger than every other metropolis in Massachusetts. The median lease for a one-bedroom residence within the metropolis now sits at $2,750, in line with Zillow. Flats in new buildings fetch much more.

A view of Central Sq. in Cambridge. DAVID L. RYAN / GLOBE STAFF

In one of many densest cities within the US, that presents a difficult drawback, and piecemeal options like insurance policies that squeeze some inexpensive models out of market price initiatives, weren’t working properly sufficient, some stated.

The concept of the AHO, which was first handed in 2020, was to make sure zoning doesn’t get in the way in which of inexpensive housing initiatives that already face an array of each political and monetary hurdles. For the reason that authentic coverage went into impact, 616 models have been accepted in AHO initiatives.

However there have been nonetheless some hurdles, like top limits and setback restrictions, which housing advocates hope the modifications will tackle. A number of councilors who supported the amendments cited one explicit eight-story inexpensive venture close to Porter Sq. that failed final 12 months due to pushback from neighbors and the zoning board. Underneath the up to date coverage, the venture would’ve been allowed by-right.

Permitting tall initiatives by-right, or with out particular approval from a zoning board, was one other huge level of rivalry. Some councilors and residents argued that the particular approval course of is important to moderating improvement and guaranteeing that buildings match the town’s character. A number of the metropolis’s nonprofit inexpensive housing builders, although, stated that course of will be lengthy and dear, oftentimes informing whether or not they suggest a venture on a sure lot in any respect. Making that work inside the confines of the financing construction for inexpensive housing, they stated, is extraordinarily tough.

In addition they contended that only a few 12 to fifteen story buildings will truly be constructed within the years to come back, as a result of they’re costlier to plan and assemble. Extra realistically, they stated, the tweaks to the coverage would lead to extra eight or 9 story buildings.

The amendments to the AHO add to a sequence of modifications to the way in which land-use is ruled in Cambridge shepherded into regulation by a bunch of progressive metropolis councilors lately.

The November elections will function 24 candidates vying for 9 seats, lots of whom have taken sides on the AHO and made their stance on the coverage a part of their marketing campaign.