Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

March 26, 2017

End of the March – Interesting Items on the March 27, 2017 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , , , , — Robert Winters @ 11:45 pm

End of the March – Interesting Items on the March 27, 2017 Cambridge City Council Agenda

First Sign of SpringHere’s my take on this week’s agenda:

Manager’s Agenda #3. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the appointment of the following persons as a members of the Harvard Square Kiosk Working Group, effective Mar 27, 2017: Abra Berkowitz, Robyn Culbertson, Ankita Deshpande, Timothy Hyde, Janet Si-Ming Lee, Sarah Rosenkrantz, Daniel Andrew Schofield-Bodt, Kenneth Taylor, John DiGiovanni, Bertil JeanChronberg, Frank Kramer, Peter Kroon, Sohail Nasir, Abhishek Syal, Thomas Lucey and Mary Flynn

This is shaping up like a classic turf war and I hope these appointees can get beyond that. Personally, I would just like to see an active use for the Kiosk that’s not all about the tourists – a place where the locals want to gather. My ideal would be something like Sullivan’s at Castle Island in South Boston, but I don’t suppose the Old Cambridge crowd could ever tolerate that much humanity.

Manager’s Agenda #4. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the requirements of the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) that the City Council adopt an order for the Statement of Interest Form to be submitted to MSBA no later than Apr 7, 2017 for the Tobin and Vassal Lane Upper School located at 197 Vassal Lane.

The Putnam Avenue School is done and the King Open and Cambridge Street Upper Schools are now under construction. This Statement of Interest concerns the next major renovation or replacement – the Tobin and Vassal Lane Upper School. Let’s hope there’s some state grant money available to help pay for the project.

Manager’s Agenda #11. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to a proposed ordinance related to the growth and maintenance of “Running Bamboo”.

Alternatively, we could import pandas. City officials are just so resistant to creative solutions.

Manager’s Agenda #12. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Numbers 16-64 and 17-9, regarding trash and recycling pick up for small businesses.

"DPW is proposing to expand the municipal recycling pick-up program on a trial basis to small businesses beginning in the spring/summer of 2018. It is proposed that this program will be made available to all small businesses throughout the City on a once per week basis, and will help reduce the cost to businesses in eliminating the need for them to contract with outside vendors as well as enabling the City to further increase the quantity of material diverted from the waste stream in the City. Funds are included in the FY18 budget to initiate the program."

Manager’s Agenda #14. Transmitting Communication from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to the transfer of $1,000,000 from the Water Fund Other Ordinary Maintenance account to the Public Investment Fund Water Extraordinary Expenditures account to fund the replacement of water meters and meter transmitter units (MTUs).

Contained in the message is the following piece of good news: "In October 2016, the Council approved an appropriation to use $3.6 million from the Water Fund’s Fund Balance to purchase water from the MWRA to ensure an adequate supply of water to meet the needs of the community. The severity of the drought has lessened and the usable capacity in our reservoir system has stabilized. The City has not had to use MWRA water since the beginning of December and has only expended $1.6 million."

Manager’s Agenda #15. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to recommendations for the block rates for water consumption and sewer use for the period beginning Apr 1, 2017 and ending Mar 31, 2018.

According to the Manager’s report, the average triple-decker uses about 122 CCF of water per year. My triple-decker apparently uses nearly twice that and we’re generally pretty conscientious about water use. This past year I paid over $2850 and the report says the average for a triple-decker was $1590. Either something is amiss with the plumbing or the Manager’s figures or my water meter is reading a lot higher than it should. Actually, I just checked my records and it appears that the higher readings coincide with when the new meter was installed. Time to call the Water Department, I guess.

Order #1. City Council go on record urging the Governor to resist reducing funding for The Ride.   Mayor Simmons

It’s stunning just how backwards things are in this state and, in particular, the Boston Metropolitan Area when it comes to public transportation. I don’t doubt that there are some efficiencies to be had with The Ride and other services, but this hardly seems the place to close a budget gap.

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to consult with the Acting Police Commissioner with a view toward piloting a Cambridge Police outpost located in Carl Barron Plaza, to be ready for operation by Summer 2017.   Mayor Simmons, Vice Mayor McGovern

What should really happen is for the City and the MBTA and a Central Square property owner to create a multi-function site that can house a police substation, an MBTA facility for bus drivers and other personnel, an information center, a public bathroom, and maybe even a newsstand. That, of course, would take coordination, so I won’t hold my breath.

Order #6. That the City of Cambridge opposes H.R. 482 and S. 103, and calls on its representatives in the House and Senate to vote against these bills, and to exert influence on other representatives to oppose these bills and support the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in all efforts to affirmatively further fair housing and collect data to assess the progress of fair housing initiatives and inclusiveness of its communities.   Vice Mayor McGovern, Mayor Simmons

In addition to the many positive effects of the Fair Housing Act, there is also the unintended consequence that efforts to more equitably locate some social-service types of housing throughout the city have actually been hindered by this Act. There is no legal way to prevent the over-concentration of such facilities in a place like Central Square.

Order #7. That the City Council agenda be altered to create a section in the agenda between public comment and the City Manager’s agenda entitled “General Council Discussion,” where Councillors would be able to bring their colleagues up-to-date on projects in which they are engaged or ask for updates about projects that other Councillors are working on, even if these issues do not appear on the Council’s agenda or have never been the subject of formal City Council attention.   Councillor Kelley, Councillor Devereux

In an ideal world, city councillors would actually be working on such projects collaboratively and in accordance with the Open Meeting Law via the various City Council subcommittees. If this were the case there would be no need to set aside a special time at City Council meetings to reveal what they’ve been doing out of public view.

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Leland Cheung, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Mar 16, 2017 to discuss a zoning petition filed by Richard Harding, et al., to amend the Mass + Main Residential sub district and the Central Square Overlay District by amending Sections 20.307.8.1 (a) and (b) and 20.307.6.2 (a).

Even if someone has lingering objections to the Mass+Main project, this is an absurd way to go about expressing those objections long after that train left the station. – Robert Winters

March 21, 2017

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 213-214: March 21, 2017

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 213 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast March 21, 2017 at 5:30pm. Topics included the State Championship victory of the CRLS Boys Basketball team, some upcoming civic events, design review of MIT-Kendall projects, and a curious zoning petition that appeared at the Mon, Mar 20 City Council meeting regarding short-term rentals. The hosts are Judy Nathans and Robert Winters. [On YouTube]


Cambridge InsideOut Episode 214 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast March 21, 2017 at 6:00pm. Topics included zoning and short-term rentals, changes to the Smoking Ordinance, and the proposed changes to the Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance that was passed to a 2nd Reading at the Mon, Mar 20 City Council meeting. The hosts are Judy Nathans and Robert Winters. [On YouTube]

[Materials used in this episode]

March 19, 2017

Springtime in Cambridge: Featured Mar 20, 2017 Cambridge City Council Agenda Items

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , , , — Robert Winters @ 11:51 pm

Springtime in Cambridge: Featured Mar 20, 2017 Cambridge City Council Agenda Items

It's SpringHere’s a sampler of items of potential interest at the March 20 Cambridge City Council meeting. Happy spring! (It’ll be warm again before you know it.)

On the Table #5. That the City Manager is requested to establish the requirement that all appointments to the City’s commissions, advisory committees, and task forces reflect the City’s diversity and that the Civic Unity Committee is asked to sign off on all such appointments going forward. [Charter Right exercised by Mayor Simmons on Order #8 of Feb 27, 2017. Tabled on a motion by Councillor Cheung on a voice vote of 8 members on Mar 6, 2017.]

Perhaps they’ll settle this on Monday. As I’ve stated before, the goal is laudable but you cannot give veto power over City Manager appointments to a committee.

Unfinished Business #6. An amendment to the Municipal Code Ordinance that Title 8 entitled “Health and Safety” be amended in Chapter 8.28 entitled “Restriction on Youth Access to Tobacco Products and in Smoking in Workplaces and Public Places” by amending 8.28.050 entitled “ Definitions for Prohibition of Smoking in Workplaces” by adding a new definition. [The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Mar 20, 2017.]

I’m sure a few of the smoking risk denial crowd will be there to testify against this. They should take a walk on Berkshire St. beforehand.

Applications & Petitions #1. A zoning petition has been received from the Friends of Observatory Hill Village, to establish the Observatory Hill Village Overlay District. (1000+ additional signatures for this zoning petition are on file in the City Clerk’s Office.)

The language of the petition seems reasonable enough, but I’m always curious about what recent activities in an area lead to the decision to submit a petition for a change in the zoning. Are back yards being built over? Are new buildings being built that bear no relationship to the existing buildings. Just curious.


Applications & Petitions #3. A zoning petition has been received from Latoyea Hawkins Cockrill, et a., to amend the Zoning Ordinance of the City of Cambridge to regulate short-term rental uses throughout the City.

Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Craig Kelley, Chair of the Public Safety Committee, for a public hearing held on Mar 1, 2017 to draft language for short-term rental regulations to be forwarded to the Ordinance Committee.

These two have to be discussed together, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this petition and the soon-to-be City Council petition on the same topic are processed concurrently. There has been some discussion on the neighborhood listservs that the Cockrill Petition is really being submitted by AirBnB to counter the proposal coming out of the City Council that would normalize short-term rentals but restrict it to owner-occupied properties. I expect there will be a lot of public comment on this one.


Communications #3. A communication was received from Peter Valentine, 37 Brookline Street, transmitting thanks for seeing the true totality of what he does, reducing complicated things to their simplest level.

In a strange way, I have to agree with Peter.

Resolution #2. Congratulations to the CRLS Boys Basketball Team on their Division 1 (North) Championship.   Councillor Toomey

Now we can add a 2nd straight State Championship to that. The CRLS Falcons won the championship game on Saturday night by a score of 70-43 over Franklin High School.

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate City departments on the feasibility of installing a hitting tunnel at Danehy Park for youth and high school sports.   Councillor Toomey

I’ve been badgering Kendall Square developers for years about putting a miniature golf course there. A batting cage would also be nice. Show us how Innovative you really are.

Order #5. Recognize the efforts of AIDS Action Cambridge, the SIFMA Now Coalition, and First Church in Cambridge to promote greater awareness about the ongoing opiate epidemic crisis, and their collective efforts to increase access to effective treatment throughout Cambridge.   Mayor Simmons

Further comment is unnecessary. This is important.

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Jan Devereux, Chair of the Economic Development and University Relations Committee, for a public hearing held on Feb 14, 2017 to discuss the Retail Strategic Plan and similar issues related to the retail environment in Cambridge.

This report seems short on specifics, but apparently the process leading to a Retail Strategic Plan for Cambridge business districts still has a way to go. In any case, it’s not always the City plans that govern the eventual outcomes. There are many hands stirring these pots and zoning alone cannot predetermine outcomes.

Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Marc C. McGovern, Chair of the Finance Committee, for a public hearing held on Jan 25, 2017 to discuss the City’s Fiscal Year 2018 Operating and Capital Budget.

The Manager and staff provided the context, and the councillors provided the wish lists. Tune in early May for the Budget Hearings.

Committee Report #5. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Leland Cheung, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Feb 28, 2017 to conduct an additional hearing to discuss a petition by the City Council to amend provisions of the Zoning Ordinance as it related to Inclusionary Housing, including the insertion of new definitions in Article 2.000 and the substitution of revised zoning text for the current text to Sections 11.200 through 11.206.

This is the meatiest item on the agenda. It is presumed that the petition will be passed to a 2nd Reading with the 20% net inclusionary housing mandate and other changes. The sticky point is whether the Council wants to jettison legal reasoning and retroactively impose the same requirements on Planned Unit Developments (PUDs) that have already received Special Permits. It may be politically popular to impose requirements that are certain to be challenged and likely to be invalidated by the courts but, hey, enjoy your Revolution. Then educate yourselves about long-term planning and financing of large-scale developments. – Robert Winters

April 19, 2016

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 131-132: April 19, 2016

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 131 (Part 1)

Episode 131 – Cambridge InsideOut. This episode was broadcast on April 19, 2016 at 5:30pm. Patrick Barrett was the guest and Robert Winters is the host. In tonight’s episodes we spoke about the recently released Inclusionary Housing Study, several housing-related bills before the state legislature, and good old Central Square. [On YouTube]


Cambridge InsideOut Episode 132 (Part 2)

Episode 132 – Cambridge InsideOut (Part 2). This episode was broadcast on April 19, 2016 at 6:00pm. Patrick Barrett was the guest and Robert Winters is the host. In tonight’s episodes we spoke about the recently released Inclusionary Housing Study, several housing-related bills before the state legislature, and good old Central Square. [On YouTube]

April 12, 2016

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 129-130: April 12, 2016

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 129 (Part 1)

Episode 129 – Cambridge InsideOut. This episode was broadcast on April 12, 2016 at 5:30pm. The hosts are Judy Nathans and Robert Winters and our guest was Jesse Kanson-Benanav. In tonight’s episodes we spoke about the recently released Inclusionary Housing Study and other civic affairs. [On YouTube]


Cambridge InsideOut Episode 130 (Part 2)

Episode 130 – Cambridge InsideOut (Part 2). This episode was broadcast on April 12, 2016 at 6:00pm. The hosts are Judy Nathans and Robert Winters and our guest was Jesse Kanson-Benanav. In tonight’s episodes we spoke about the recently released Inclusionary Housing Study and other civic affairs. [On YouTube]

April 10, 2016

Up the Inclusionary – Hot Topics on the April 11, 2016 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , , — Robert Winters @ 11:20 pm

Up the Inclusionary – Hot Topics on the April 11, 2016 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Inclusionary ZoningHere are the relatively few agenda items that seem interesting this week:

City Manager’s Agenda #1. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, recommending the reappointment of Conrad Crawford to the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority.

City Manager’s Agenda #2. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, recommending appointment of Naomie Stephen to the Cambridge Housing Authority.

These are the only two City Boards for which City Council approval is required for appointments by the City Manager. Under recently amended protocols, these will each have a City Council committee hearing prior to coming back to the City Council for a vote.

City Manager’s Agenda #3. A communication transmitted from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the recently completed Inclusionary Housing Study.

This is by far the most significant agenda item. Any change to Inclusionary Zoning would be a zoning amendment, so this matter will now have to be referred to the Ordinance Committee and Planning Board for further deliberation. The study and the Manager’s recommendation call for a substantial increase in the inclusionary requirement. If I read it correctly, the current 15% requirement (which ends up being under 12% of the new units created after the density bonus is added in) would go up to somewhere between 17% and 20% after the density bonus is added. Some activists will, no doubt, want an even higher percentage, but there are at least some indications that the sky is no longer the limit in terms of housing prices and rents. There may be some logic in exercising at least a little caution in increasing the mandatory requirements.

Resolution #4. Resolution on the death of Dorothy Steele.   Councillor Toomey

If you didn’t see the recent Eric Moskowitz article on Dorothy Steele on the front page of the Boston Globe (Apr 5, 2016), you really should. It was one of the most beautifully written tributes I’ve ever read in a newspaper.

Order #2. That all future Government Operations, Rules and Claims Committee meetings related to the selection of a new City Manager be televised.   Councillor Carlone, Councillor Devereux

The actual level of interest in this process among the general public is not nearly as great as the sponsors of the Order seem to think. Interest will definitely pick as we get nearer to an actual vote, but for now it’s just the usual suspects.

Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to write a letter to the Department of Public Health indicating the City of Cambridge’s non-opposition for Sage Cannabis Inc., application to operate a RMD in the Business B-2 (MMD-3 Zoning) District within the City of Cambridge, Massachusetts.   Councillor Cheung, Vice Mayor McGovern

I can certainly understand why the City Council might support a zoning change to allow Sage Cannabis to operate a medical marijuana dispensary at a location not previously permitted under zoning, but does the City Council really have to also write them a letter of recommendation? Surely the zoning change should be sufficient. – Robert Winters

September 23, 2015

A Better Cambridge Holds Fall Discussion Series on Affordable Housing and Development in Cambridge

Filed under: 2015 Election,Cambridge,planning — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 11:35 pm

A Better Cambridge Holds Fall Discussion Series on Affordable Housing and Development in Cambridge

HousingA Better Cambridge (ABC), Cambridge’s citywide group of residents working to build a more diverse and livable Cambridge, has announced a fall discussion series to help engage Cambridge residents, political candidates, and policy experts in planning for the growth of a sustainable Cambridge that provides affordable housing options for all families.

SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 26th: POLICY DISCUSSION
Affordable Housing in Cambridge – At the Epicenter of Development and Demand

As Cambridge embarks on a citywide plan for development our real estate market booms and our population is expected to grow in the coming decade, low and middle-income families in Cambridge city still struggle with unaffordable and rising housing costs. How can we ensure that new development in Cambridge serves the housing needs of all families including those with lower incomes? How does this relate to other important development issues – density, walking/biking/public transit, parking, and creating exciting, walkable neighborhoods? A Better Cambridge brings together experts to discuss what Cambridge can do to build a more diverse, affordable, and livable city for all families.

  • Aaron Gornstein, President/CEO, Preservation of Affordable Housing (POAH)

  • Edward Marchant, Affordable Housing Development Consultant and Adjunct Lecturer of Public Policy, Harvard Kennedy School of Government

  • Andre Leroux, Executive Director, Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance

  • Moderator: Dante Ramos Boston Globe Op-Ed Columnist

This panel will be held on Saturday, 9/26, 3:00pm to 5:00pm at the Citywide Senior Center (806 Mass. Ave, Central Square). For updated information, including the announcement of additional panelists and moderator, visit the ABC website: http://www.abettercambridge.org/housing_forum_2015.

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 15th: CANDIDATES’ FORUM

Cambridge stands at a crossroads and the next City Council will play a major role in determining the future diversity, sustainability, and character of our city. As we look to this November’s municipal election, residents want to understand how all City Council candidates approach the development challenges and opportunities facing our city. Join candidates for Cambridge Cambridge City Council in a moderated discussion about their plans and visions for our city’s future.

This candidates forum will be held on Thursday, October 15th, 6:30pm to 9:30pm at the Broad Institute (415 Main Street, Kendall Square). The moderator will be Robin Young, host of "Here and Now" on WBUR. Please stay tuned to the ABC website for more details.

ABC is Cambridge’s only citywide pro-smart growth resident group. Since our founding in 2012, ABC has been instrumental in opposing the downzoning of Central Square, advocating for expansion of a mixed-use neighborhood in Kendall Square, and most recently, securing the promise of 50 units of affordable housing at Mass. Ave & Main Street. For more information about ABC or either of these events, contact jesse@abettercambridge.org.

February 10, 2013

Housing and the Kendall Square/MIT Petition

Filed under: Cambridge,Kendall Square,MIT,planning — Tags: — Robert Winters @ 6:19 pm

Housing and the Kendall Square/MIT Petition

There was a forum at MIT on Wed, Feb 6 hosted by the MIT Graduate Student Council that addressed some of the issues associated with the current MIT/Kendall Sq. zoning petition now before the Cambridge Planning Board and the Cambridge City Council. This forum was intended for an MIT audience, and only MIT affiliates were invited. It was an honor to have been asked to be a panelist at this forum. The forum was very well attended and required an overflow room to accommodate all the graduate students, undergraduates, post-docs, faculty, staff and administration who came to hear the plans and ask questions.

The good folks of the MIT GSC know how to run a very good meeting that showcases multiple viewpoints while refraining from advocacy. Special acknowledgement goes to GSC President Brian Spatocco who deserves to one day be the mayor or governor of somewhere, somehow, based on his ability to be so informative, fair, and objective.

After the introductions, the forum opened with Israel Ruiz (MIT Executive Vice-President & Treasurer) and Steve Marsh (Managing Director of Real Estate, MIT Investment Management Corporation – MITIMCo) explaining the elements of the zoning petition and its purpose. The panelists were Martin Schmidt (Associate Provost & Prof. of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science), Linda Patton (Asst. Director of Off-Campus Housing), Bob Simha (Director of Campus Planning, 1960-2001 and DUSP Lecturer), Jonathan King (Prof. of Biology), Robert Winters (mathematics lecturer, editor of Cambridge Civic Journal), Ruth Perry (Prof. of Literature), and Thomas Kochan (2030 Faculty Task Force & Professor of Management).

Though the organizers were aware of which panelists might speak favorably or unfavorably about the zoning petition (so that they could provide balance), there were no conditions on what specific topics each panelist could address. I chose to focus on the context of housing for graduate students and on the affordability of housing in general. I tried to look at things from my point of view as someone who was an MIT graduate student starting in 1978 and who bought a three-family house in 1985 where I continue to live today. Though I may have skipped a point or two, here are the points I tried to make during my presentation:

The situation as it used to be (circa 1978):

1) There was a significant supply of multi-family housing stock in Cambridge.

2) Rent control was the law for much of the housing stock.

3) The great majority of graduate students preferred to live off-campus rather than in MIT dormitories.

4) Most graduate students were content to live in housemate situations, often with 3 or 4 or more to an apartment. Luxury accommodations were not in demand.

5) There were relatively few post-docs.

6) Kendall Square as a job generator did not really exist.

What happened? (the perfect storm)

1) Rent control ended as a result of a 1994 statewide initiative petition.

2) Much of the multi-family housing stock was converted to (high-end) condominiums.

3) Kendall Square and elsewhere was developed without concurrent housing – greatly increasing the pressure on existing local housing stock for both rental and ownership opportunities.

4) There was a significant increase in post-doc opportunities (in lieu of tenure-track faculty opportunities) – significantly increasing the grad/post-doc pool of people competing for housing.

5) Changing expectations – grad students/post-docs are demanding much higher quality housing, often shunning housemate situations.

6) Among some grads/post-docs, there is a greater need to be close to their labs.

7) There has been a national shift toward people preferring to live in urban environments, reversing the earlier pro-suburban movement among faculty, professional people, and seniors.

8) Any new housing built in and around Kendall Square will also be occupied by people who work in Boston and elsewhere.

The Net Effect:

All of these factors (and more) affect the availability and affordability of housing in and around Cambridge – not just for graduate students but for everyone. The problem is pervasive and is compounded by the resistance by many existing residents toward the construction of new housing in Cambridge and elsewhere. The isolated construction of a limited amount of housing anywhere in Cambridge will have a negligible effect on the overall housing problem. Indeed, it can even paradoxically have the opposite effect by attracting people toward this limited supply of new units who will then bid up the price to create a local "bubble" in the price of housing.

Indeed, the only way to reverse this "perfect storm" is to advocate for significant amounts of new housing in Cambridge, in Somerville, in Allston, in Charlestown, and elsewhere in the greater Boston area. Only when there is a range of housing choices at various rents and locations will any kind of rental housing market be restored in which people can make rational economic choices such as living a little further away or in less luxury in exchange for paying less rent. Trying to create a smattering of "affordable housing" units via inclusionary zoning or government subsidy will never have more than a limited effect on the essential problem. There are just too many factors conspiring to make housing unaffordable. If graduate students really want affordable housing, they should be clamoring for many thousands of housing units to be built everywhere in the area – and not just in Kendall Square and Cambridge.

Locally, it may well be that condominium conversion has had the greatest impact on this loss of affordability. Where once there were streets lined with two-family houses and triple-deckers that provided affordable housing for a resident owner AND for the other tenants in a building (including many graduate students), there are now luxury condominiums where the prices have been bid up to the point of unaffordability except for those in the upper income echelons. The only "working class" residents remaining are those who bought their housing long ago, inherited it, married well, or those with some expertise in benefiting from government-subsidized housing and related programs.

There are also people like me who bought their homes and continued to rent apartments to graduate students, post-docs, and others and who managed to pay off their mortgages without ever excessively raising rents. My affordable housing continues to provide the affordable housing for two other families who were graduate students when they first arrived. Cambridge would be a better place today if more of its two- and three-family homes had never been turned into luxury condominiums. Failure to put some limits on that condominium conversion may be the single greatest reason why MIT graduate students can no longer find affordable housing opportunities in Cambridge. This is also one of the greatest public policy failures by Cambridge elected officials who put all their faith in rent control. Building "affordable housing" today really is like closing the stable doors long after the horses have run away.

The MIT/Kendall Petition

This petition basically redefines the upper limits (heights, density) of what might be constructed in the area east of Ames Street, south of Main Street (plus the area around One Broadway to Broad Canal), and down to Memorial Drive. This petition is both timely and appropriate. This area has always had a mix of uses, including industrial uses. It’s also located at a major Red Line T station, and virtually all planning professionals agree that it’s best to concentrate density close to public transportation. The petition would only define the envelope of what could be built and not precisely what will be built.

Any debate regarding the appropriateness of commercial buildings vs. academic buildings vs. residential buildings in the petition area should really not be taking place before the Cambridge Planning Board or the Cambridge City Council (though this may affect how the petition is received by these respective bodies). This debate is properly one that must occur within the MIT community – administration, real estate investment people, faculty, staff, and students – and preferably also among those who live and work in the surrounding area.

MIT/Kendall plan - courtesy of Israel Ruiz
photo from MIT’s The Tech

Text of MIT/Kendall Petition

Jan 11, 2013 Memo from Community Development Dept. (CDD)

Regarding the graduate student housing issue

MIT can provide a good "Plan B" option for graduate students and post-docs by having ample on-campus and near-campus MIT-owned residential properties (especially for those who need to be close to labs, etc.), but this will barely make a dent in the larger problem. Many, perhaps most, graduate students and post-docs will continue to seek housing options off-campus – preferably within walking or bicycling distance. The focus has to be on increasing housing options within a reasonable distance of the MIT campus and not just on building housing within the MIT campus. Unfortunately, this is not something that MIT can unilaterally accomplish. It also requires action by local and state government AND by the developers who will ultimately build sufficient housing to restore some kind of viable housing market. Building "affordable housing" is fundamentally just politically expedient window-dressing.

A note on transportation

People really are choosing to be less reliant on automobiles, so public transportation infrastructure has to grow and to provide more frequent service and more reliable connections, and the entire system has to evolve from a hub-and-spokes model to more of a regional network. Otherwise we will be forever limited by the capacity of the hub in Boston. In the coming decades it will be very advantageous if a variety of new transit lines can be developed that do not require passing through the hub of Boston.

Etcetera

Whatever comes of the MIT/Kendall petition and of future plans for the petition area, it is essential that the results should not be boring. There really is a place for food trucks, diners, bumper cars, miniature golf, and other things that will have great appeal to many people – especially to MIT affiliates who have always had a love for things eclectic, entertaining, and affordable. There’s a reason why those food trucks are so popular. Those whose memories go back several decades understand that those food trucks are modern versions of the old F&T Diner. There has to be a place in the future East Campus where modern-day memories will be created – the 21st Century incarnations of the F&T, Pritchett Lounge, and the Muddy Charles Pub. People can reasonably debate the relative merits of housing vs. academic buildings vs. commercial buildings that will help finance long-overdue renovations of existing MIT buildings. However, if the future is boring and pathetically predictable, that will be unforgivable. – Robert Winters

Comments?

F&T 1

F&T 2

F&T 3

Powered by WordPress

%d bloggers like this: