Arguing about housing

by jkaufman jefftk2 min read14th Nov 201912 comments

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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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