For nearly 100 years, Cambridge has fought against allowing more housing to be built to meet the needs of its residents. With 6 ABC endorsed councilors, the current City Council took the first step since 1926 to move away from the idea that we should restrict the housing that can be built in the city: we now need to build on that success in order to achieve our citywide goal of becoming a more welcoming city. In this election, I’m supporting the candidates endorsed by A Better Cambridge who I believe can achieve that goal.
Throughout 2019 and 2020, the Council debated, amended, and eventually passed the Affordable Housing Overlay, with the support of 6 Councilors supported by A Better Cambridge in the 2019 election. This change is the first move to significantly expand by-right housing development — that is, development that does not require discretionary approval — in more than a generation.
Passing the Affordable Housing Overlay in 2020 was an important first step. It has shown the possibilities of eliminating costly, burdensome individual project review procedures for creating the public good that many in the city consider a top priority: more affordable housing. That policy has led to 350 new affordable homes being proposed this year: the single largest year for newly dedicated low-income housing since the end of the federal investment in public housing in the 1970s and 1980s. Building on that demonstration, we now have the opportunity to apply this lesson to achieve even more lofty goals.
Cambridge is falling short of the citywide targets set through the Envision Cambridge process of creating 900 new market-rate homes per year through 2030. (Over the past 10 years, the average has been only 429 total new homes per year.)
To achieve this goal, we will need to do more to allow more projects to proceed near public transit hubs and along our transit corridors. In a city where there is literally no home more than half a mile from a public transit stop, we have an excellent opportunity to expand access to climate friendly, walkable neighborhoods throughout the city.
We will also need to renew the opportunity to build new housing of the type that Cambridge already has. 85% of the homes in residential neighborhoods could not be built again under the rules that exist today. The “working class” homes of yesterday have been banned by a series of largely exclusionary rules designed to create a class and wealth divide in the city. These rules do not represent the values of a welcoming city; they contribute to the sky-high housing prices that force even the wealthy to look elsewhere, much less lower or middle income families.
In considering my Council vote, I consider this question a priority: who will prioritize allowing more people of all incomes to live here? Who is ready to work on policy changes that will allow us to live up to the values of our Welcoming Community Ordinance?
The easiest part of the bar to cross is supporting denser zoning by-right for affordable housing development. Sadly, several candidates can not even meet that low bar: Patty Nolan, Dennis Carlone, and Nicola Williams all objected to, and continue to fight against, the Affordable Housing Overlay, which allows for more development of affordable housing by-right. In short, these candidates do not support affordable housing unconditionally.
The next step is to establish whether your path is one of “housing for some”, or whether you support “housing for all”. This is more difficult for many: when you see housing as a zero-sum game, with winners and losers, you may reject the idea of broad market-based development as a tool to help the middle income households in the city survive and thrive.
Housing is not a zero sum game. Homes are a public good; increasing production of homes provides benefit to everyone, and that benefit — even when new housing is high-cost — goes most heavily towards those who struggle the most with housing.
This cycle, A Better Cambridge has endorsed 9 pro-housing candidates who I believe are best suited to move forward with enacting policies to create housing for all. These 9 candidates — Burhan Azeem, Tonia Hicks, Alanna Mallon, Marc McGovern, Joe McGuirk, Sumbul Siddiqui, Denise Simmons, Jivan Sobrinho-Wheeler, and Paul Toner — are who I think will best represent my positions on housing.
I believe that a housing focused approach will help create a Cambridge that lives up to its values. It is why I am supporting these candidates; and if you feel as I do, I hope you will vote for them too.