Exploring Options for Addressing Housing Issues in and Around Cambridge

Ed Greable Blogger May 2, 2019

It is no secret that Cambridge and the Boston area in general is experiencing a serious housing crunch. So much so that a coalition that includes the mayors of Boston, Newton, Somerville and Cambridge has been formed in an effort to bring more housing to the area. While there is no one solution to resolving the problem, here is a look at several of the ideas that are being considered.

Make Zoning Changes

Several zoning and rezoning initiatives are already underway within the region, particularly in Cambridge and Somerville. These two cities alone are home to nearly 200,000 residents while also suffering from the highest rents and prices in the region. Zoning and rezoning initiatives are meant to help facilitate more multifamily housing while also bringing affordable housing to the area. It is certainly time to look at making some changes, as Somerville’s zoning hasn’t been changed since 1990. Newton and Arlington are also currently investigating making some zoning changes to help facilitate taller, denser buildings.

Improve Affordable Housing Regulations

To assist with the housing crisis, most housing developments in the Boston region now include a certain number of affordable housing units. Or, if the units are not a part of the development, some are created elsewhere to help meet the needs of the city’s lower-income residents. Cambridge is currently looking at rewarding developers who create affordable housing projects by allowing them to build more densely and higher in certain neighborhoods. Meanwhile, the city of Boston is considering increasing its affordable housing requirements for private developers.

End Apartment Sharing

Some argue that enterprises such as Airbnb take many potential homes off the market as people choose to rent their homes on a short-term basis through the website. New state regulations due to take in effect in July will have an impact on this practice, as the regulations are designed to curb what the state considers to essentially be illegal hotels. How this will impact housing supply remain to be seen.

Increase Dorm Options

Increasing dorm options helps to take students out of the general population in terms of housing. Already, several new dorms have been constructed, particularly within the Boston proper. Most of these developments have been the result of governmental prompting.

Complete Conversions

Conversions can serve as a major source of new housing in and around Boston. Already, Boston is one of the leading cities in terms of converting garages into livable space. In addition, very few new garages are being developed in Boston, with most being part of a larger mixed-use complex that includes housing.

Infill Where Land is Available

Officials are looking for parcels of land of all sizes on which to build. Some larger spaces being explored include the 20-acre Bayside Expo Center in Dorchester-South Boston and the 161-acre former Suffolk Downs in East Boston-Revere. Meanwhile, Roxbury has more than 1,000 smaller vacant parcels that may be ready for development.

Add Surcharges

To help reduce flipping, the Boston City Council is considering legislation that would tax commercial and residential real estate sales of at least $2 million up to 6 percent. Some properties sold twice within two years could also see a tax of as much as 25 percent. The tax funds gained could then also be put toward housing programs and construction.

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