A Hesitant Solution to a Thorny City Problem

Land-Banking for Affordable Housing

Upsetting the Balance

Even if funds were available, the realities of the city's planning processes would mean that the successes of a land-banking strategy might be several years in the future.

"Cambridge has arrived over many years at a balance between the speed of development and the responsiveness of decision makers to neighbor-hoods," Stockard says. "That means Cambridge takes time to get things done."

But Cyr says that even if the city lacks the money and other resources it needs now, it is important to get the land bank in place so as to take advantage of the situation when they it become available.

"We will situate ourselves at the starting block so when the money comes we will be ready," says Cyr.


Limits on Income

The major roadblock now standing before the land bank scheme is a debate over who will receive first crack at the new housing--if and when it is built. The current proposal calls for housing to be built for any family making 80 percent of the Boston area median income of $44,625 a year. Under that plan, preference would be given to families making $22,313 annually, or 50 percent of the median income.

Critics of the current plan, however, would like to see all the housing go to families earning $22,000 a year or less.

"We are very heartened that the city of Cambridge is makeing this land available," says Fred Reiz of the University Lutheran Church in Harvard Square which along with the Phillip Brooks House Association runs a shelter for homeless families in the square in the winter months.

But Reiz says that new housing must target the people with the lowest incomes, even if that means a longer search for the funds needed to finance the projects.

"We are aware that it is a challenge to find development money," says Reiz. "If we are going to retain people in Cambridge we are going to have to stretch. It is economically difficult, not economically impossible."

But while experts say they understand the need to provide housing to the city's poorest residents, they say they do not want to limit the land bank's options.

Since the state economy is going to limit the amount of housing the city can build, Schlesinger and other city planners says that a lower maximum income will only delay the creation of new housing.

"I applaud people who are interested in providing housing for those earning less than $23,000 but the land bank ought to retain a certain amount of flexibility," says Daniel J. Wuenschal, executive director of the Cambridge Housing Authority.

"It will be more possible to build in the next year if we are not locked into a project that requires $60,000 to $70,000 in subsidies," says Schlesinger. "On the other hand, we are committed to providing homes to low income people."