public comment guide

On Thursday, April 8th, at 5:30pm, the Ordinance Committee will hold a public hearing on the Missing Middle Housing zoning petition. The Ordinance Committee consists of all 9 City Councilors, who will decide whether and how to move forward with the petition.

Please speak up or email in to show that there is broad public support for missing middle housing!

Useful readings:

How to Sign Up for Live Public Comment

For the Ordinance Committee: Sign-up for public comment at this meeting will open likely 1 day in advance (April 7th) at https://www.cambridgema.gov/Departments/CityCouncil/PublicCommentSignUpForm.

  • Public comments will be given over Zoom. Use the same name to sign up and as your user name on Zoom.

  • For the Agenda item, if required, you can enter "MMH petition".

  • After signing up, you will receive a Zoom meeting link via email. Keep this email.

  • If you haven't used Zoom before, download and install the app so you are ready to go when the meeting starts.

  • Please keep an eye on your email. The City Council may send out updated links close to the meeting time.

  • Click the link to join the meeting. Keep your microphone muted until you are called to speak, and choose a quiet spot with few distractions if one is available to you.

  • If you have not already done so, add your comments to the public record by sending them to council@cambridgema.gov, clerk@cambridgema.gov, and cambridgemmh@gmail.com.

How to Submit Written Comments

Email your comments to council@cambridgema.gov, clerk@cambridgema.gov, and CC or BCC cambridgemmh@gmail.com so we have a record. Make sure "Missing Middle Housing" or "MMH petition" is in the subject line.

If you sent a letter to the Planning Board last week, feel free to reuse your Planning Board letter for the Ordinance Committee! They are entirely different groups of people.

Sample Script - Live Public Comment

"Hi, my name is <name>, I live at <address>, and I'm here in support of the Missing Middle Housing zoning petition."

(If you are new to public comment:) "This is my first time giving public comment."

"I think that it's important for Cambridge to end exclusionary zoning in order to <encourage more housing at lower price points citywide/fight our legacy of segregation/support more sustainable living options/fight the climate crisis>." [see below for talking points]

After covering your points, restate your high-level concern, the values that are important to you, and why this is important to you.

"Thank you for the time to speak. This is very important to me and I look forward to the quick passing of these reforms."

General Tips

Public comment is important. It says a lot to the City Council when a resident takes the time to show up. It means that people are paying attention and care. You are giving the City Councilors a sense of what is important to their residents.

If you are able to describe a personal connection to the issue, or a perspective that others are unlikely to have, it will make your comments extra impactful. For instance, if you grew up in Cambridge but are not sure whether you will be able to stay, or if you (like most) live in a building that would be illegal to build today, it would be great to say so. Similarly, it is usually better to go into detail about one point than to cover many points quickly.

You will only have two or three (likely two) minutes, and short statements are effective. Err on the side of a shorter statement rather than a longer statement. You do not need to use your full time, and you should prepare what you are going to say ahead of time. It is OK to read a pre-written statement. FOR THE PB/OC HEARINGS - these hearings will be limited in time, so if you just wish to show your support without sharing any particular perspective, we encourage you to say two or three sentences and then yield the rest of your time.

Details are not as important as sharing the values that you hold. It is OK to not have a specific deep understanding of all details of the zoning proposal. Showing up and speaking is the most important part.

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.

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.

Careful!

  • If your name is called and you do not respond, you will be skipped, at least temporarily.

  • Use the same name on Zoom as you did on the sign up form to avoid confusion.

  • If you get dropped from the call, reconnect/dial back in!

  • Council rules prohibit mention of City Councilors or members of the public by name.

  • Be respectful and focus on the issue. Do not give Councilors any reason to back out on support because of "respectability" of activists.