public comment guide

On Thursday, June 10th, at 5:30pm, the City Council will continue its Ordinance Committee hearing on the Missing Middle Housing zoning petition. We expect the petition to be tabled due to calendar constraints, but it is crucial that the Council express their support for the petition and their commitment to its concrete, substantial proposals, so that the conversation can continue.

Please email in to show that there is broad public support for missing middle housing! There will not be live public comment, but opponents are emailing in, and the Council needs to hear from positive voices.

Useful resources:

Talking Points

Consider the following topics and arguments, and feel free to use the ones you find most compelling. Additional details can be found on the FAQ page, in our petition narrative, or elsewhere on this site.

For the May 11 Planning Board meeting: the case for the Missing Middle Housing zoning petition has gotten even stronger since March.

  • After conversations with city staff and useful feedback from the community, the petitioners released nine suggested amendments, which will make the petition even stronger by targeting the MMH density bonus / increasing the required open space / banning nonconforming down-conversions.

  • Envision Cambridge recommended revising neighborhood zoning. City Council unanimously agrees that exclusionary, single-family only zoning is an "unnecessary artifact." Petitioners have created a thoughtful, responsive plan — it's time to move forward from the harmful status quo.

Apartment bans have reinforced patterns of racial and economic segregation in Cambridge.

  • Cambridge’s zoning rules were created in the 20th century and have locked our city into a racist, classist status quo.

  • Cambridge is an 11% Black city, but the percent of Black residents in Residence A districts was 2.4% in 2017, scarcely changed from the 0.46% that it was in 1940.

  • The neighborhoods which have the most restrictive bans on new housing are the wealthiest and least racially diverse neighborhoods in Cambridge.

The Missing Middle Housing zoning proposal would allow much-needed new housing, like what already exists in Cambridge, without relying on large developments.

  • Since 1980, Cambridge has added 45,000 jobs, added only 13,000 units, hardly any of which are in small multi-family housing.

  • Every new unit of housing built is a household not displaced. Every new unit of housing not built is a household displaced. A housing shortage is a cruel game of musical chairs, which the most vulnerable always lose.

  • 72% of households in Cambridge are only 1 or 2 people, but current zoning in neighborhoods requires or encourages the creation of large single- or two-family homes, 90% of which are larger than 1000 sqft/unit.

    • Many empty-nesters or other small households live in houses that are larger than they need, because they do not have options to downsize. This takes away housing supply from larger households who need it.

  • Over two-thirds of buildings in Cambridge would not be permitted today, either because of setback rules, building bulk, number of units, or a lack of off-street parking.

Cambridge's housing prices have effectively priced out all but the wealthiest.

  • While Cambridge technically has ordinances on the books that require hiring city staff from within city limits, they are widely ignored, because many teachers, librarians, and others can not afford to live in Cambridge.

  • Many Cambridge residents live in illegal basements, illegal attics, or at illegal levels of overcrowding - putting them at increased risk of exploitation by their landlord, not to mention COVID-19.

Current zoning rules require that new housing in neighborhoods be unaffordable luxuries.

  • The median price for a purchase of a single family home (which can be constructed anywhere in Cambridge) is nearly twice that of a 2BR condominium, which can only be built on a tiny portion of Cambridge's residential lots.

  • 90% of new construction building permits in Cambridge neighborhoods in the past 2.5 years are for single-family and two-family houses, with the other 10% for three-family houses. Current zoning makes it infeasible to build multifamily housing in half of neighborhoods, and in the other half makes it illegal entirely.

  • Off-street parking minimums and caps on the number of units allowed on a lot encourage builders to fill in backyards with detached single-family homes, surrounded by pavement, rather than building a single building of multi-family housing with a real yard.

  • When there is such a need for conveniently located, cheap housing, why should land be reserved for millionaires? When the past century of history has consistently shown that tighter zoning is tied to exclusion and unaffordability, why should anyone continue to defend the status quo?

  • Which would you rather have, a new $2M single detached house like the ones just built at Sennott Park, or four 1BR condos going for $550,000, each of which is affordable to a middle-income household of two making 110% of the area median income, and prevents those four households from displacing people out of other existing housing?

Current zoning rules undermine our environmental goals.

  • Requiring off-street parking (often under-used) means less green space, less permeable area, fewer trees and more expensive housing.

    • One parking space, and associated driveway, takes up the same amount of land that a studio apartment could take up, if only we allowed it.

    • A 2015 study of cities suggested that "Parking provision in cities is a likely cause of increased driving among residents and employees". Unnecessary parking means more pollution, more congestion, more carbon emissions.

  • Because many of Cambridge's workers cannot afford to live here, they drive in from the suburbs, again increasing air pollution, traffic congestion, and carbon emissions. Over 50% of MA carbon emissions are from transportation, and that percentage is rising.

  • Multi-family housing, especially modern construction, is more energy-efficient than detached single-family homes.

  • For all these reasons, the CoolClimate network estimates that for Berkeley, CA (a city much like Cambridge), encouraging more urban housing is by far the single most effective thing the municipality can do to cut carbon emissions - about twice as impactful as heating electrification, over four times as impactful as vehicle electrification.

This zoning reform is a reasonable and necessary step toward slowing the increase in housing costs spurred by rising demand.

  • Cambridge land has become very expensive. Rents and home prices are not likely to moderate while our zoning prevents adding units to residential lots and enforces dimensional requirements pushing toward larger homes.

  • Former workers' cottages and apartments in 3-deckers are being priced out of reach at an alarming pace. Zoning rules that limit supply add to upward pressure on housing costs. Gentrifying purchasers are not stopped by supply limits; they can afford to convert once-modest dwellings to high-cost housing. Too many Cambridge folks cannot compete; they are not helped by zoning rules that are stacked against them.

  • Our city will not be made more affordable to its residents by continuing our existing policies. Under current policies, adding more inexpensive housing requires a prolonged period of inter- and intra-neighborhood combat, over and over, one development at a time. Current Cambridge zoning is not serving (most) Cambridge households well. Let's take down the "no multi-family housing here!" signs.

While we cannot solve the housing crisis with zoning reform alone, we cannot solve the housing crisis without it.

  • The 100% Affordable Housing Overlay, passed last year, will encourage the construction of affordable housing on large sites - but affordable housing developers are much less able to build at the small scale of individual lots. We need to empower individual property owners to be able to add new units with contractors.

    • There are limits to how much affordable housing can be built, because it requires public subsidy.

  • The 2019 Tenant Displacement Task Force issued a set of recommendations to limit displacement, which the Council should consider taking up alongside this petition.