Destruction of Affordable Housing, 3 Homes At A Time

The existing homes

The property in question is 11 Jackson St., a small building with 1500 square feet of interior space. Built in the early 19th century, and relocated to this site in 1872, the structure is modest, and at a glance, might seem to be only a single family home.

11 Jackson St.
Two doorbells at 11, and a separate entrance at #9 to the right.

The New Homes

The builder has proposed that this site is used for two detached, single family homes. These homes will have an average of 1425 square feet of livable space, and will likely include finished basement space as well, bringing their total square footage to around 2000 square feet. (This is consistent with the proponent listing these homes as being “family-sized” with “3 bedrooms or more” in each dwelling.)

Render of the newly built 9/11 Jackson St.
Before and after at 14–16 Jackson St.

The Incentives

In practice, of course, there’s very little that the Planning Board can do about this. This development — a conversion of 3 modest apartments into 2 high-end single family homes — is the intention of the zoning for this area, which prohibits multi-family development. The previous building, with 3 units, was in violation of zoning code; this new building will not be. With three units, the previous building didn’t have enough parking spaces (one for each unit); the new one will. While it might be possible to blocking the special permit for a property 75’ from the street line, it would not prevent these homes from being built; nor would they even end up being a single building. Instead, they’d likely just rearrange the property slightly so they could bring the rear home slightly closer to the front property line, eliminating the need for a special permit at all. Creating detached single family houses is encouraged by rules that discourage multi-family housing.

Missing Middle

While it’s hard to predict exactly what would happen under the Cambridge Missing Middle Housing proposal for any given site, it is not very likely that this would be the outcome that the developer would select. While there will always be an incentive to maximize the square feet of buildable home on a given lot, the MMH petition would open the door for a wider range in number of units — and therefore the size. And rather than forcing developers to put their livable space in basements (which are exempt from FAR requirements), you could have more livable space — including bedrooms — above ground instead.

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Christopher Schmidt

Christopher Schmidt

Local political evangelist and tech guy.