Muchnik-Led Petition to Block Walden Square Development Nears 1,000 Signatures | News

One of Cambridge’s most vociferous opponents of high-rise affordable housing is mounting a protest against a proposal to build an additional 95 affordable units in the 240-unit Walden Square Apartments.

Under the city’s Affordable Housing Overlay — a policy which loosens the process for building affordable housing in Cambridge — apartment developers WinnDevelopment are in the design review process to build the 95 units across two buildings of six and seven stories each.

But Cambridge filmmaker Frederico Muchnik said recently that his petition to block the construction is now nearing its goal of 1,000 signatures.

Muchnik’s petition raises concerns that the “industrial, oversized slab-style housing” will jeopardize the “character of Cambridge,” advocating instead for lower affordable housing developments that match the local building style. Muchnik made preventing the Walden Square development the centerpiece of his failed run for the Cambridge City Council last year.

In an initial 2021 proposal, WinnDevelopment had plans to construct a nine-story building. But after Muchnik and other residents objected, WinnDevelopment revised the proposal into two smaller buildings of six and seven stories each.

Still, Muchnik’s objections to the development have persisted for a number of reasons — including diverting pedestrian traffic onto narrow paths, environmental impacts, and over-densification of the neighborhood.

“The underpass continues to be a vexing, poorly designed idea at the wrong location,” Muchnik said. “I want folks who make the city run, people who don’t have wealth, to live here.”

Muchnik’s opposition flies in the face of what many housing advocates have said is the only solution to Cambridge’s worsening affordable housing crisis: to build more.

Rebecca M. “Becca” Schofield, co-chair of housing advocacy organization A Better Cambridge, stressed the importance of building vertically to increase Cambridge’s limited housing supply in an emailed statement.

“We don’t have much undeveloped land area left, so we need to go vertical to create more units — which is how we meet housing demand in an equitable way,” she wrote. “Furthermore, going higher means open space can be better preserved — buildings can be narrower and taller in order to create open space for residents and the public without sacrificing unit count.”

In spite of extensive changes to WinnDevelopment’s original proposal to accommodate many of these complaints — including lowering the height of the development — Muchnik has been unwavering in his stance that the solution is to stop the development altogether.

His petition encourages WinnDevelopment to “build elsewhere.”

“There’s no lack of possibilities for additional public housing. So from my perspective, these buildings feel wedged into already a prohibitively tight and dense space that will degrade the quality of life for the people there and lead to long term quality of life issues for Walden residents as well,” he said.

“This is an opportunity that a private developer is taking to collect city, state, and federal funds in the name of public housing to develop property and own it and then reap the benefits to rental income over X number of years,” Muchnik added.

Schofield wrote that Muchnik’s campaign was an example of perennial efforts from Cambridge residents which would limit the amount of affordable housing available to low-income households.

“There will always be neighborhood opposition from folks who already have secure housing and like the way their neighborhood is — but this position is typically exclusionary and limits housing options for lower-income families who need it,” Schofield wrote.

Still, Muchnik insisted that his position was not exclusionary, writing in a text message that the development itself would exclude low-income and immigrant residents living in the area who “have no say in this.”

His proposal, he said in an interview, “is not about reducing, tempering, or diminishing the amount of low-income people,” which he said will “continue to grow — development or no development — at Walden Square for reasons having to do with culture, focus on family.”

Ed Cafasso, a spokesperson for WinnDevelopment wrote in an email that many current residents of the Walden Square Apartments have expressed a desire to move into the new units once they become available. There are currently 1,128 families on the waitlist, according to the webpage for the development.

Schofield, whose group has pushed for the development, said that despite Muchnik’s objections, any new affordable housing would be a boon.

“Especially in a well-resourced, transit-oriented city like Cambridge, we will always advocate for the developments that create more housing options and make our city more welcoming to more people,” she added.

—Staff writer Jade Lozada can be reached at [email protected].

—Staff writer Laurel M. Shugart can be reached at [email protected]. Follow them on X @laurelmshugart or on Threads @laurel.shugart.

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