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Workforce Housing

Workforce Housing is Critical for Cambridge as the Best Livable City

Hao Wang, Candidate for City Council 2023

September 5, 2023

Recently, Cambridge ranked first in ‘best cities to live in America”, according to review website Niche. “Living in Cambridge offers residents an urban feel; most residents rent their homes. In Cambridge, there are a lot of bars, restaurants, coffee shops, and parks. Many young professionals live in Cambridge.” Niche wrote about the city. On the other hand, According to Niche, we needed to score higher in categories like weather, cost of living, and housing. Our median home value in the city is $888,000 compared to the national of $244,900. Our median rent is $2,388 compared to the national average of $1,163.

However, under the surface, there is an exodus of essential medical workers from the city. In the past three years, I noticed five medical doctors I know practicing in Mt. Auburn Hospital have decided to move away or retire. Because I had to cope with the care gap it created, I could not help asking one of the doctors why. Dr. F. empathically told me it was an obvious decision for many doctors. On the one hand, medical doctors’ earnings in Massachusetts ranked #48 in all states; on the other, we live in one of the most expensive housing markets. If one doctor can earn double the money in New Jersey and pay less for housing, it is an easy decision for them to move away from Cambridge.

In short, the exorbitant housing and rental prices have driven away our doctors, possibly nurses, teachers, and city workers. If they moved out of Cambridge, not only would they have to restart their lives somewhere else, but also, we have many critical jobs vacant. If there is one thing the Pandemic taught us, it is that America’s best livable city cannot be without essential workers. We need to have affordable workforce housing in our city. We may have ignored that our essential workers are some of the most negatively impacted by the affordable housing shortage. As income stagnates, our essential workers are being priced out of our city, which needs their crucial services.

Therefore, I am calling for developing high-quality workforce housing in Cambridge to support everyday working individuals and families – like our firefighters, grocery store workers, teachers, police, and medical staff. In the current affordable housing paradigm, they earn too much to qualify for low-income housing but are severely cost-burdened by market-rate rents in our city. Moreover, our city council should commission a focused study and regular monitoring of housing affordability for essential occupations such as teachers, medical staff, firefighters, police, childcare workers, etc. In creating such a workforce housing program, we should uphold our zoning requirements, such as parking and setbacks, as these are necessary for our essential workforce’s high quality of living.

Our workforce housing should ensure energy efficiency. We should promote our workforce homes with solar panels, Energy Star appliances, and air-source heat pumps that can heat or cool the house. We should build fast electric vehicle charging stations around our city. Our competent government should implement such a program with high priority and streamline the application process. We should identify critical occupations that need such supportive housing through careful study. We can retain the most livable city through the swift and decisive implementation of workforce housing.

To attract our essential workforce to stay, we should also maintain a solid community support infrastructure such as walkable bars, restaurants, coffee shops, and parks. These are elements that made Cambridge a tremendous, livable city. Any city policies or initiatives that do away with these elements will hurt our chances of retaining our essential workforce to live and work here. Our preparedness for another pandemic or natural disaster depends on our resolve to support our workforce.

Lastly, the eligibility determination can benefit from the focused study and regular monitoring of the housing affordability for Cambridge’s essential workforce. The success of such a program can also borrow from the policy consideration for inclusionary zoning. Nothing can substitute the togetherness resulting from the widespread embedding of our essential workforce in our communities.

This op-ed is part of Hao Wang’s campaign series for an inclusive and livable Cambridge. Hao called for a competent Cambridge government to continuously improve its services for Cambridge residents.