News

Cambridge Residents Slam Council Proposal to Delay Bike Lane Construction

News

‘Gender-Affirming Slay Fest’: Harvard College QSA Hosts Annual Queer Prom

News

‘Not Being Nerds’: Harvard Students Dance to Tinashe at Yardfest

News

Wrongful Death Trial Against CAMHS Employee Over 2015 Student Suicide To Begin Tuesday

News

Cornel West, Harvard Affiliates Call for University to Divest from ‘Israeli Apartheid’ at Rally

Editorials

Down With Single-Family Zoning

By Julian J. Giordano
By The Crimson Editorial Board
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.

Cambridge has fallen victim to a suffocating housing crisis.

But with a new proposal to end single-family zoning under consideration, the Cambridge City Council has a chance to finally confront the problem head-on and deliver much-needed relief to residents.

The effects of restrictive zoning regulations on housing prices are well-documented: They reduce the supply of land and consequently drive up the price of homes, often radically changing the composition of a neighborhood.

When controversy over Berkeley’s land usage erupted, we rejected the premise that the development of a university had to coincide with the erasure of livable housing prices. The same applies to Cambridge’s case: Harvard should coexist with Cambridge, and multi-family zoning helps do just that.

The mechanism is simple enough: By allowing more families to live in the same amount of space, multi-family zoning combats the squeezing of supply in demand-high areas.

The 100%-Affordable Housing Overlay, adopted in 2020, relaxed density and height restrictions to support the construction of affordable housing. The AHO has already spurred the development of over 700 units that will serve over 2,000 residents, a strong example of the possibility of zoning reforms.

After removing single-family zoning, Minneapolis was the first American city to stave off inflation in 2023, in large part due to rent growth rates that lagged significantly behind those of the U.S. overall. In cities like Houston, other zoning reforms have been followed by burgeoning housing stocks that slowed rent growth.

The jury is in – relaxing zoning regulations works. Cambridge has a pressing affordable housing crisis; the natural step to address it is ending single-family zoning.

Allowing for the construction of more multi-family homes has other benefits, too: It is more sustainable, encourages transit-oriented development and walkability, and promotes mobility justice.

Furthermore, as the City Council has noted, single-family zoning has its roots in racist housing policies. Ending it is an important step in rectifying the effects of historical injustices still felt today.

We understand concerns that this measure will only promote additional housing in already-dense, less-wealthy neighborhoods. Advocacy groups must continue voicing their needs and working with the City to ensure a more vibrant, communal Cambridge.

Yet, at the same time, the City’s proposal is clearly smart policy. Complaints that single-family zoning is part of the “American way of life” ignore the fact that this measure doesn’t end single-family homes — only single-family zoning. It restores freedom to Americans to build what they want.

Cambridge’s housing crisis is far from solved, and loosening zoning restrictions is merely a first — vital — step. The city must go further, relaxing zoning codes that regulate height and parking requirements, and instituting reforms that protect tenants.

Some types of regulations are useful. But restricting the ordinary functions of a free market must be done with good reason. Laws that spell hefty prices for ordinary homeowners have tenuous justifications and clear disutility. It is high time for regulations like these — including single-family zoning — to go.

This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.

Have a suggestion, question, or concern for The Crimson Editorial Board? Click here.

Want to keep up with breaking news? Subscribe to our email newsletter.

Tags
Editorials