For a year or so now the Chestnut Hill realty Corporation has been trying to pass amend the zoning law in Cambridge to allow them to convert the basements of their large apartment buildings into apartments. Also note that the Zuker family who owns Chestnut Hill Realty is a major contributor to several of our city Councillors’ campaign funds. Councillor Decker being the major beneficiary of their largesse.
When they first introduced this it was entitled the “Workforce Housing” amendment. Chestnut Hill claimed that this would allow lower income local workers to find affordable housing in our community near their jobs in local businesses and institutions. The problem is that nowhere in the new law was there any provision for all of these new apartments to be affordable. The Planning Board and many citizens saw through this hypocrisy and the amendment failed to pass twice. The latest version will likely come up for a vote before the City Council on Monday, Dec. 12. Although the pretense of affordable housing for workers has been dropped, the basics are still the same. The area covered by the proposal is now smaller now and would extend for several blocks along Massachusetts Avenue between Harvard and Porter Squares, not the low rent district.
Other objections to this are that basement apartments often suffer from flooding, sewer back-ups, poor ventilation, and other problems associated with the mechanical equipment that they are often jammed in with, AND THERE WILL BE NO PARKING ADDED FOR THESE NEW UNITS, not to mention the stigma associated with being a basement kid.
Recently, the City Solicitor’s office issued an opinion in another zoning case that stated that zoning changes designed for the enrichment of a single property owner are prohibited under state law. That’s pretty close to home here.
Is there any way that this could be made into something actually beneficial for Cambridge? I think there is. The Association of Cambridge Neighborhoods discussed the matter last night and came up with an amendment that would make some of these objections go away. How about some actual affordable housing? The amendment would require that for each new unit added to a building, one unit in that building would have to be made affordable, and that , in accordance with existing city policy, the affordable units be distributed throughout the building and not clustered either in the basement or some other area forming a poor or “ghetto” area.
Many of the problems associated with basements can be alleviated through good inspection and enforcement of health and building codes, but the parking issue is certainly still there.
If you believe that Cambridge should make a move to increase its stock of affordable housing, distribute it more evenly throughout the city, and that large property owners should not be able to change the law for their own benefit without giving something back to the city they do business in, please contact your city council and ask them not to pass this amendment without this affordability provision.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org(An email message to this address will be received by all nine councilors)