When Jesus said “For ye have the poor with you always,” he wasn’t talking about Cambridge. Not these days anyway.

Not that Jesus could envision a progressive democratic community that would sacrifice the well-being of its current residents for the expensive tastes of those who will come later.

Gentrification is gentrification, no matter how much you hide it behind an inclusionary zoning formula that does little except ensure sub-market rents for a few lucky units while sending out ripples of rising rents to an entire neighborhood.

gentrificationThis 19-story residential tower foisted on the city by Twining/Normandy is the project that intends to blast away any and all resistance to piecemeal project-based planning for Central Square. At the same time it would also bestow the city’s blessings on sugar-coated gentrification for the near and foreseeable future. “Sugar-coated” gentrification because it is gentrification sweetened by a paltry amount of affordable housing sprinkled lightly throughout the project. More than two-and-a-half times as tall as current zoning would allow, so massive you might wonder if their internationally renowned architect had chanced upon renderings for Hitler’s bunker, this project is unworthy of a city just waking up from the realization it’s been on a development binge.

This is the project that may end up proving how stupid and gullible our leaders can be. Irrefutable proof that repeating the same “affordable housing” mantra can safely allow a councilor or Planning Board member to vote “Yes” and further erode the dwindling sheet of ice our poorest residents are standing on.

Speaking of which, It was shocking to see three black ministers recently shepherded into a City Council meeting to validate Twining’s incomprehensible affordable housing set-asides. Has anyone explained to these gentlemen that their congregants are directly in Twining’s line of fire? That it won’t just be shadows from the sun this project will cast, but the shadow of eviction and neighborhood dislocation?

Ministers, Councilors, Neighbors, Fellow Cantabrigians, please! Developments like the Twining/Normandy tower are not the solution to the affordable housing crisis. THEY ARE THE CAUSE. Look at the trends, the number of families and school-age children in Cambridge are on the decline. As are the percentage of 3- or 4-bedroom “family-sized” apartments included in our newest residential complexes.

Our councilors and Planning Board can find no adequate justification for approving spot-zoning whose massive height and density set such dangerous precedents. Why would we accept such a grandiose grab for wealth at the neighborhood’s expense? What are the community benefits that might begin to offset the project’s massive size and negative impacts?

Not Mass and Main, as the project’s cheerleaders have named it, but MASSIVE and Main—in audacity, scope and profit!

If we can agree that a flood of market-rate housing units exerts upward pressures on the price of housing, and the result is a citywide purging of the least-advantaged and most vulnerable members of our community, then we should be able to see the danger inherent when inclusionary housing serves as a free pass to massive development and up-zoning giveaways like the Twining/Normandy tower.

And so, if we’re to prevent the Economic Cleansing of Cambridge, we must insist on a few rules going forward.

  • First, that City Councilors or candidates for the council take NO political donations from developers or development interests. Not a penny, not even a free lunch! How else can we expect them to honestly perform their duties, without bias or external influence, when voting on zoning issues?
  • Second, that the City Council or Planning Board NOT approve a single special permit or zoning variance UNTIL the Community Development Department quantifies displacement caused by gentrification. In simple terms, how much displacement can we expect from different sized developments? Why would we blindly approve projects without understanding the damage we are doing? Even the dumbest soldier knows to wait until the line of fire is clear before firing his weapon.
  • That the City Council increase the inclusionary zoning formula and contributions by commercial developments toward the affordable housing fund to a level commensurate with percentages charged in other ‘desirable’ communities.
  • That the City Council consider building 100% affordable apartment complexes on city-owned land. With the city retaining the deeds in perpetuity.

Who can say whether there’s enough time and civic will available to stop the Economic Cleansing of Cambridge? Or if circumstances will allow us to alter a path that has been deeply carved and resolutely followed by those who have been recent stewards of our city?

What would Jesus have said?

Assuming he earned enough to live in Cambridge?