Elliot Kilham, MUP 2016
Summer 2015
Organization: Just a Start, Cambridge, MA, USA
Sponsor: Greater Boston Community Service Fellowship

“This week, as part of my research on affordable housing in Cambridge, I had the opportunity to read and analyze the Community Development Department’s Nexus Study on proposed changes to the City’s incentive zoning ordinance. This comes in preparation for the City Council’s hearing on potential changes to the ordinance this coming Monday, June 29. While the proposed changes will substantially increase the housing contributions by commercial developers to Cambridge’s Affordable Housing Trust, the methodology of the study is deeply flawed. The report recommends, for reasons of competitiveness, that Cambridge set their housing contribution rate at $10 to $12, a rate nominally similar to Boston’s. However, the report fails to account for the fact that, under the proposed changes, Cambridge’s contribution rate will be triggered for each additional square foot over 30,000 square feet; this is compared to 100,000 square feet for Boston. Thus, it will be more expensive to build in Cambridge then in Boston.

More problematically, it seems that if Cambridge wants to use a market-based rationale to justify the level at which it sets the housing contribution rate, then it should actually conduct a rigorous market study. I am not suggesting that, in the end, Cambridge should set their housing contribution at a level equal to Boston’s – which, in fact, may be far too low compared to what the market would support. Instead, Cambridge (as well as Boston) should determine how much private developers value increased density and set a rate commensurate with this value.

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