Quick Thoughts on #affordable25

Housing in Cambridge is really expensive. In fact, it’s too expensive, because housing is excessively regulated (that is to say, there’s too much restriction on who can build what where).  In the long run, the obvious solution is to let people build more, but in the short run, there’s always a temptation to institute price caps, in the form of rent controls.

Today’s protests at City Hall have a nuanced and reasonable policy proposal taped to the door.  In general, I think these are generally good ideas, and I hope these protestors get what they want!

It looks like the specific demands are:

  1. Allow MIT to build 5500 new units of housing. This is fundamentally a neoliberal solution, since it’s not demanding that MIT do anything, just that they be allowed to do what they want.  I think this is a fantastic idea.
  2. Require >9 unit new developments include 25% affordable housing. In the current housing market, this is a requirement that won’t shift the calculus much for new developments.  New housing is phenomenally profitable in Cambridge right now, so this won’t reduce the desire to build. However, this would represent a huge wealth transfer from the people who got lucky by owning Cambridge land to the people who rent Cambridge housing, while building a broader coalition of support for making the permitting process easier–further increasing the total supply of housing.
  3. “Free” land be used for the public good rather than sold to developers. I’m un-sold on this idea, since auctioning off this space for construction would bring in large amounts of money, and public housing has a long track-record of sucking.  However, parks are wonderful, and if we can get more housing density and keep these spaces for public use, that’s a good thing.
  4. Rent-To-Own program. I don’t really know exactly what this would mean in practice, but it could be wonderful, or could be a catastrophe.

Protest Demands



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