City Faces Shortage of Affordable Housing

News Feature

This winter, as Harvard students continue to stew over the randomization woes, a growing number of, low-income families are finding that the cost of Cambridge housing is just a bit beyond their reach.

As the city's housing market soars through the roof, it continues to chip away at Cambridge's supply of affordable apartments.

Although the crisis is plagued by a lack of adequate data, a recent memo from the city's community development director indicates that up to 2,326 units of Cambridge's estimated total inventory of 6,980 low-income housing units could potentially be lost by the year 2000.

While these numbers may be subject to question, there is little debate over their consequences.

As prices rise, tenants are being forced to leave their homes and find housing in nearby communities.

For business leaders, city officials and subsidized-housing residents alike, the trend is indelibly altering the character of their hometown.

"Without an active role by the government, the city will gentrify very, very quickly," says Roger Herzog, housing director for the city's Community Development Department (CDD).

"We are trying to preserve the diversity of this city," he says.

Weight Off Washington

Cambridge's housing crisis is defined by the growing demand for market-rate housing and the highly publicized demise of rent control.

But perhaps the most fundamental imbalance in the Cambridge market comes from a nation-wide shift of responsibility away from Capitol Hill and into City Hall.

"What you are seeing is an attempt to move more of the funding--particularly in low-income housing--from the federal level to the local level," said Jonathan Miller, chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy II (D-Mass.).

Kennedy is the ranking minority member of the House Housing and Community Opportunity Subcommittee and has actively fought recent cuts in the budget of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Miller said that since 1995 the Republican-led Congress has eliminated between $7 and $9 billion from programs supporting low-income housing.

But cuts from the 103rd Congress administration froze funding for numerous HUD programs, including expiring-use housing.