New Cambridge Housing Sparks Discussion

The number of housing units in Cambridge is steadily increasing, raising concerns about the density and demographics of city neighborhoods, City Councillors and other city officials said at a roundtable last night.

Between 2001 and 2007, 2,400 new housing units—mostly one or two bedroom apartments—were built in Cambridge. Some of these units are designated affordable housing.

Last night’s roundtable was an informal discussion between the members of the council, the Cambridge Planning Commission, and the Housing Commission to consider the issues confronting housing in the city.

The location of affordable housing and whether the new units would bring families to the city dominated the discussion.

Councillors said they were concerned that new development projects, such as NorthPoint—which will consist of one and two bedroom apartments—will not attract new families to Cambridge.

Gwendolyn Noyes, a partner at the local builder Oaktree Green, said the majority of people moving to Cambridge are “young professionals or empty nesters” who want one or two bedroom apartments.

Those present also addressed the growing density of residential areas—a trend partly due to the creation of new affordable housing.

Councillor Timothy J. Toomey said that the distribution of density in the city unevenly effects some neighborhoods.

Residents of Wellington-Harrington—the second most densely populated neighborhood in the city—have complained to the council in the past about the large number of affordable housing units slated to be built in their neighborhood.

“This density issue is real and the parking issue is real,” Toomey said, to scattered audience applause. “It’s not that we’re against affordable housing.”

Councillor Craig A. Kelley, who said he agreed with Toomey, said that concentrating residents in one area does not promote the city’s goal of maintaining its diversity.

David Harrison, who grew up in Wellington-Harrington and currently lives there, said that his neighborhood is so dense that he has to park a quarter of a mile away from his house.

But Harrison said he is not opposed to new small apartments because new residents increase revenue for local businesses.

“[Professionals are] the people who buy things in the stores...they in turn give back,” Harrison said.

Stuart Dash, Cambridge’s director of community planning, said that in spite of recent development, the city’s density has been steadily reduced over the past 40 years, both in terms of height and number of residences.

Dash said that 6,800 of the 44,000 housing units in the city are designated as affordable housing.

Although many facets of Cambridge housing were examined at the meeting, no resolution was reached.

“There are so many aspects to this that it’s going to take many discussions,” Toomey said.

—Staff writer Sarah J. Howland can be reached at