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Cambridge housing lottery lures middle class

Some of the apartments in the new Kendall Square building (right) will be reserved for families that earn up to $118,200 a year.JESSICA RINALDI/GLOBE STAFF

In the latest sign of the housing crunch gripping Greater Boston, Cambridge on Monday held a lottery to provide affordable housing for families whose income tipped into the six-figures.

And it received dozens of applications.

A new apartment building in Kendall Square includes 15 units aimed squarely at a chunk of the population that the booming city worries it is losing fast: the middle class. Unlike more typical affordable housing, which are targeted at low-income residents, some of apartments in the Kendall building will be reserved for families that earn as much as $118,200 a year.

The rents for those reserved units will range from $1,996 to $2,439 for two-bedroom apartments, compared with rents of $3,229 to $4,364 for the market-rate units in the building; the one-bedroom units reserved for middle-income tenants will rent from $1,663 to $2,032.


The lottery at the Vivo Apartment Homes on Third Street, located near the heart of Kendall’s thriving biotech industry, is among numerous efforts by the city to reserve new housing for middle-class residents. Housing Director Chris Cotter said the city is worried that soaring rents — a new one-bedroom unit can command $3,000 a month or more — is “hollowing out” the middle class in Cambridge.

“You have to have a pretty good income to be here without any assistance,” Cotter said. “We want to create options.”

After a pair of community meetings and a few weeks of advertising the apartments on a city website, Cambridge housing officials received 43 applications for the 15 units at the Vivo. They began qualifying applicants for the apartments Monday afternoon, and will continue to accept applications for a waiting list.

“We’re continuing to hear from people who are interested,” Cotter said. “We’re trying to figure out what the demand is and how best to serve it.”


Next up is a 230-unit complex in Central Square known as Mass & Main that will include seven apartments for middle-income residents, and 40 for low-income tenants. A city proposal to rezone the sprawling Volpe Transportation Center in Kendall Square — a 14-acre complex for which the federal government is soliciting redevelopment proposals — would require 5 percent of any housing built there to be set aside for middle-income households. Cambridge officials are also studying if the city’s zoning rules that encourage affordable housing should be tweaked to include more middle-income apartments.

A woman walked past the Vivo Apartment Homes on Third Street in Cambridge Monday. Rents for reserved units there will range from $1,996 to $2,439 for two-bedroom apartments.JESSICA RINALDI/GLOBE STAFF

Boston, too, is trying to find ways to develop more housing that middle-class residents can afford. Since 2011, the city has created 120 apartments that are set aside for households earning 100 percent to 120 percent of the region’s median income, according to the Department of Neighborhood Development — a $118,200 threshold for a family of four. Now the city is talking with housing advocates and developers about changes to its housing policy that could create more middle-income units. Boston also recently launched a new “housing innovation lab” — funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies — that will study how Boston can build more housing its typical residents can afford.

“No city in the United States has solved the middle-income housing challenge yet,” Mayor Martin J. Walsh said in a statement on the housing lab Monday. “I want Boston to be the first.”

It’s a tricky balance, said Jesse Kanson-Benanav, chairman of the A Better Cambridge civic group. Every middle-income unit that city officials demand may mean fewer new units for lower-income residents, and some housing advocates say precious housing funds should be prioritized for the poor. But in cities like Cambridge and Boston, Kanson-Benanav said, it’s clear that renters across a wide swath of the income spectrum are being squeezed out.


“Even among folks who have been allies of affordable housing, there’s some pushback on how to balance all this,” he said. “It’s a difficult conversation.”

Barry Bluestone, director of the Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy at Northeastern University, agrees. But even so, he notes, these sort of policies barely scratch the surface of Boston’s huge demand for middle-class housing. “They are good-hearted attempts at trying to provide housing for working families,” he said. “The problem is that we have such a huge need. What we need is much more construction.”

Tim Logan can be reached at tim.logan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @bytimlogan.