Arguing about housing

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Somerville, like a lot of pop­u­lar ar­eas, has a prob­lem that there are many more peo­ple who want houses than there are houses. In the scheme of things this is not a bad prob­lem to have; mis­matches in the other di­rec­tion are prob­a­bly worse. But it’s still a ma­jor is­sue that is re­ally hurt­ing our com­mu­nity. I’ve been get­ting into a lot of dis­cus­sions, and here are some ideas I find my­self say­ing a lot:

  • With the level of hous­ing crisis we have right now I’m go­ing to be in fa­vor of ba­si­cally any pro­posal that builds more bed­rooms. Afford­able hous­ing, mar­ket rate hous­ing, pub­lic hous­ing, tiny houses in peo­ple’s back­yards, all of it helps.

  • We do not have high lev­els of hous­ing con­struc­tion right now, we have his­tor­i­cally low lev­els. We were build­ing 7x more even in the 1980s and 30-80x more in the early 20th Cen­tury.

  • The hous­ing mar­kets for high-end and low-end hous­ing are cou­pled, be­cause low-end hous­ing gets ren­o­vated into high-end hous­ing. If we built enough new hous­ing for the peo­ple that want fancy build­ings the “gut old cheap hous­ing and make fancy con­dos” mar­ket would dry up.

  • Even fully ban­ning condo con­ver­sion would only slightly re­duce the gut­ting of old cheap hous­ing. They’ll still ren­o­vate to make fancy units, but they’ll rent them out in­stead.

  • The old cheap hous­ing we have to­day was once new fancy hous­ing. “Lux­ury” is just a mar­ket­ing term that means “new” and gran­ite coun­ter­tops are a tiny frac­tion of the cost of build­ing or the land.

  • If we don’t build more hous­ing renters will keep hav­ing to move away. Mul­ti­fam­ily pro­jects like these are what our area des­per­ately needs, and “let’s hold off on build­ing and hope things get bet­ter” will just let things get worse. We can’t main­tain the sta­tus quo of a di­verse and city that works for ev­ery­one un­less we al­low build­ing.

  • When peo­ple say they would sup­port con­struc­tion if only it were af­ford­able hous­ing or tar­geted at home­less peo­ple, I’m skep­ti­cal. Look how con­tro­ver­sial Cam­bridge’s 100% Afford­able Hous­ing Over­lay is, or how even pro­jects like hous­ing for formerly home­less peo­ple get large amounts of lo­cal op­po­si­tion.

  • Somerville used to be much cheaper. Rents have about dou­bled in the last ten years, and they were already ris­ing then. I’m lucky enough to have a well pay­ing job and bought a house at a good time, but my friends are get­ting forced out. I don’t want a Somerville that only rich peo­ple can af­ford. We need to build enough hous­ing to bring the rent back down.

  • The al­ter­na­tive to den­sity is sprawl, traf­fic, long com­mutes, peo­ple get­ting priced out, and an ever larger share of peo­ple’s pay­checks go­ing to land­lords.

  • From a cli­mate change per­spec­tive, the best place for peo­ple to be is in cities, close to things. If we don’t make hous­ing available in cities, near peo­ple’s jobs, peo­ple are forced to live farther out, com­mut­ing long dis­tances, and pol­lut­ing more.

  • If you try to keep things the same by op­pos­ing con­struc­tion, the neigh­bor­hood is still go­ing to change. The path we’re on, the long term renters get evicted be­cause they can’t af­ford the ris­ing rents and new­com­ers can. Build­ing more hous­ing lets peo­ple stay.

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