Housing as a Human Right Policy Paper

Housing as a Human Right Policy Paper

As we head into the final stretch of the campaign, we wanted to dive deeper into some of the policy ideas in my platform.  This policy paper provides a deeper look at the history and causes of Cambridge's housing crisis, as well as the solutions that I'll seek to enact if elected.

 

Introduction

For a growing number of people, living in Cambridge is simply out of reach. Poor and working people are increasingly driven out of their homes and away from their family, friends, jobs, and communities by skyrocketing rents. With the changing nature of the economy, more people are moving to Cambridge for jobs and opportunities, but we don’t have enough housing that’s affordable for them—especially housing for working- and middle-class residents.  We find ourselves in the middle of a housing crisis.  The numbers back this up—between 2010 and 2016, the city saw a 36-percent increase in the rental price of 1-bedroom apartment and a 28-percent increase for 2-bedroom apartment, not accounting for inflation.[1] In order to afford a 2-bedroom apartment in the Boston-Cambridge-Quincy metropolitan area at fair market rent (FMR) without being severely rent-burdened,[2] a renter must earn $42.19 an hour—or work 3.5 jobs at the state minimum wage of $12 an hour.

A large portion of Cambridge’s renters are locked out of any kind of homeownership when the median condominium sells for $767,000.[3]  As a result many teachers, mechanics, social workers and others who work in Cambridge are forced to choose between living elsewhere and dealing with long commutes into Cambridge or dealing with the expensive and tenuous rental market in Cambridge.  Even those who have found an apartment have no guarantee of stable housing—scores of longtime Cambridge residents were pushed out of their homes on Harvard Street in 2015 due to renovations without the opportunity to return or assistance to find other housing.[4] 

One in six renter households in Cambridge is extremely low-income (ELI), according to a recent Boston Fed report using 2016 data. Indicative of the growing shortage of affordable housing for ELI households statewide, there is roughly one affordable and available (AA) unit for every two ELI renter households in Cambridge. With such a large portion of their income spent on housing, many rent-burdened households cut back on food, health care, or child-care.[5]

Meanwhile, families struggle to find housing to fit their needs. Between 1995 and 2015, the median sale price of single- to three-family homes more than quadrupled.[6] In order to purchase a median-priced single family home in 2015, one would need to earn nearly 2.5 times the area median income (AMI).[7] Displacement continues to disrupt tight-knit communities and the social safety nets they provide. Although there is no shortage of statistics illustrating the financial pressures facing Cambridge residents, the psychological costs of displacement are immeasurable.

When housing is so precarious for longtime Cantabrigians and recent arrivals alike, Cambridge’s housing policy should affirm that housing is a human right—not just a commodity to be invested in and managed by a select few—and take bold action to make this a reality.

This is hardly a radical new concept. In his 1944 State of the Union address, President Franklin D. Roosevelt outlined a “Second Bill of Rights” essential to the pursuit of happiness that included the “right of every family to a decent home.” Four years later, the United States signed onto the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, which recognized housing as a foundational element of the right to an adequate standard of living, as essential as food and clothing.

Unfortunately, the real estate lobby has only grown more powerful since then. As a result, the laws and programs enshrining the right to a safe, habitable, affordable home have been eroded or—in the case of rent control in Massachusetts—repealed altogether. This has left thousands vulnerable to a red-hot housing market, unchecked speculation, and ultimately displacement.

It’s time to reverse that trend.

If we accept that housing is indeed a human right, it follows that we can no longer abide a handful of corporate landlords, property owners, and developers reaping record profits on the backs of working- and middle-class residents. In order to decommodify housing and place people over profit, the Cambridge City Council must take a more active role in the housing arena.

Housing policy cannot be created without the voices of tenants.  Cambridge is a city where approximately 63% of the residents are renters[8], yet the vast majority of the City Council are not. Though some tenants in Cambridge plan to be here for only a few years, others would like to stay and put down roots in the city but understand there is no way to do so with tenuous housing and ever-increasing rents.  

It is a problem for both renters and non-renters when the majority of Cambridge’s population is locked out of housing stability.  The life and character of a city struggles when a significant portion of its residents don’t know how long they’ll be able to call it home.  Representatives of the city need to reflect this reality and understand the difficulty of trying to survive in a city in the midst of a profound crisis.

 

Read the full policy paper here