Denise Simmons

What do you think are the causes of Cambridge’s high-priced housing market?

It's a variety of factors, but the three main drivers are (1) the supply and demand issue (where the number of people wishing to live in Cambridge far outnumbers the amount of housing available, which allows landlords to charge increasingly higher rents); (2) the runaway success and growth of our biotechnology corridor, which continues to bring in workers in good-paying jobs who wish to live closer to where they work - and these workers can afford high rents, which the market has responded to by continually raising the median rents in the city; and (3) the loss of rent control, which has removed any ceilings to rent increases, and which has made it increasingly difficult for those working in the service industries, the hospitality industries, and blue collar jobs (where wages have not kept pace with rising rents and the cost of living) to hang on to their Cambridge housing.

How have high housing prices affected Cambridge and the surrounding region?

Again, we have seen that those in the service industry, the hospitality industry, and various blue collar jobs are increasingly getting financially squeezed out of our community. Every year, it becomes harder for these folks to hang on and remain living in Cambridge, and far too often we're seeing people who have been part of this city for their entire lives being forced to relocate to other communities where the rents are cheaper - unfortunately, because this is a regional issue, the areas where people are getting pushed out to are becoming further and further away.

What housing options currently exist for low-income tenants who are not high on the affordable housing waitlists? How can Cambridge help them?

Unfortunately, there really aren't many decent options for these folks. The most that we can really do to help them is to see if they can be connected with programs (such as food stamps, food pantries, financial literacy classes, job search programs) that can either decrease some of their other monthly expenses to help them hold on while they wait to be placed in affordable housing, or help them try to find new employment that might help them increase their income. These avenues are not nearly as successful in stabilizing a tenant as placing them in an affordable unit, however, and it is incredibly frustrating to recognize the lack of viable options to help these folks.

How does new market-rate residential development affect the affordability of Cambridge? How does new affordable housing affect the affordability of Cambridge?

Each year, we are seeing more and more people in decent-paying jobs looking to move to Cambridge - if we never allowed the creation of another market rate unit, then these folks would unquestionably be displacing existing tenants (and often, we are seeing that when a landlord recognizes that he can charge one of these new, more affluent individuals far more than what he is charging his current tenants, he will raise his rents according to what the market will bear; the existing tenant is squeezed out, and the new tenant comes in and pays the higher rent). By allowing more market rate units to be built, we are lessening the chances that existing units are going to be displace. We are allowing the supply-and-demand equation begin to balance out a bit more, and therefore we are allowing the median rental prices to stabilize a bit. The creation of new affordable housing also impacts the supply and demand equation, and it takes some of the pressure off the market by creating a place for those tenants being squeezed out of their homes to move to that they can still afford. It certainly provides more options for those who are otherwise being financially squeezed out of the community.

What is the relationship between the twin crises of climate change and housing unaffordability? How can Cambridge address both?

As I mentioned in a previous answer, we are seeing too many tenants who work in the hospitality, service, and blue collar sectors being squeezed out of Cambridge into communities further and further away. Some of these people will eventually leave their jobs in Cambridge to allow them to work closer to their new homes, but many of them will be living far away and continuing to work in Cambridge. This means they will commute long distances from their new homes into Cambridge, and back again - often by car. This is clearly going to have an impact on carbon emissions. By working to create affordable units that would allow these people to remain living in Cambridge, we will be preventing all the driving back and forth they would otherwise be engaged in, and hopefully we can continue to create options that entice people to walk or bicycle to work rather than getting into their cars.

What effects might more housing in Cambridge have on quality of life or the environment?

Two of the biggest benefits of more housing would be, as I stated earlier, that more people could live closer to their place of work and would not necessarily be getting into their cars to commute to work, thereby cutting down on carbon emissions (and this would also place fewer cars on the road during rush hour, cutting down on traffic snarls). The other benefit is the idea of activating certain parts of the city that may not currently have much of a neighborhood feel - we need look no further than the K2C2 report from a few years back, that had suggested that we work to incorporate more housing in both Kendall Square and Central Square, to bring more of a neighborhood vibrancy to both of these areas. We are already seeing the fruits of this in Kendall Square, which is beginning to spring to life and take on a funky new character, and we shall soon be seeing the fruits of this in Central Square. Both will be a net positive for Cambridge.

Do you support the Affordable Housing Overlay? Please explain.

Yes: I agree wholeheartedly with the concept of the Affordable Housing Overlay, and the idea of making it easier to build 100% affordable units throughout the city. This has been one of my biggest priorities this term, and I very much hope to see this passed in the coming months.

Would you support eliminating parking minimums for new housing development citywide? Please explain.

Yes: I do think Cambridge should be working to discourage car ownership, and if doing away with this provision helps us toward that goal while also promoting new affordable units, then I think this is the direction we should be heading.

Would you support abolishing these restrictions by establishing citywide minimum zoning that allows more multifamily housing? Please explain.

Yes: I am in favor of any sensible idea that can allow us to increase our affordable housing stock, and to make wiser use of the limited space that we have. I believe that allowing the building of multifamily housing by-right, in particular, would absolutely be a wiser use of our land and help ease some of the housing crunch.

What measures in particular should Cambridge adopt to prevent tenant displacement?

We certainly need a greater measure of tenant protections, and this is something the City Council has already started working towards in requesting greater funding for the legal organizations that help tenants fighting evictions. I think the funding for these services must continue to increase. We must also be more aggressive in reaching out to families - particularly to seniors - who may be "House Rich/Cash Poor" and may be looking to sell their family homes before they have a plan in place of how they would continue to remain in Cambridge (if that is their wish); these folks need to learn about the housing crunch, and the options that are available to them BEFORE they sell their homes. We need to be stronger and more aggressive in notifying all tenants of their rights, and to help them be more dilligent in keeping track of all correspondence with their landlords and building managers, keeping all their important papers in one location, and not leaving any openings for their landlords to evict them based on crossed wires or poor communication.

What should the city do to increase walking, biking, and transit usage in Cambridge?

We should continue doing what we have done - such as investing in the Green Line extension that will serve Cambridge and Somerville - we should continue to invest in projects like the Blue Bikes, and we should make it easier to build affordable housing, particularly around the transit nodes of the city, to allow people to live within walking distance or a short bike ride from their place of employment.

What should the city do, if anything, to increase funding for housing affordability?

I have been pushing the City to invest an additional $100 million (spread over the next five years) to the creation and preservation of affordable housing, on top of what funds had already devoted to this. The City Council passed the policy order requesting this funding, but we have not yet seen the results I am hoping for. I shall continue to forcefully press the City Manager on this matter.

What other steps should the city take, if any, to encourage and fund the development of more homes, including market-rate and affordable housing, in Cambridge?

See the answer immediately above (though I will note that the proposed additional $100 million would be devoted solely to the creation and preservation of affordable housing, not of market rate housing).

What other measures do you support that will affect housing or development in Cambridge, which you have not yet gotten a chance to talk about? (Optional)

Aside from housing and development issues, what are some major policy priorities that you hope to push for on the City Council?

I will continue to work around issues of civic unity, issues concerning the intersection of race, gender, and fairness in our community and in the work place, issues around wage equity, and around issues of fairness and transparency in our government. I will also be using the next term to explore how race, class, and gender may impact the healthcare available to members of the Cambridge community.

What have you done to advance the goals you’ve described in your answers above in your own work?

My work on the housing issues impacting our community goes back many years, and I would point to the Comprehensive Housing Policy roadmap that I released in my second term as mayor as a template of policy initiatives and goals that the City Council has worked toward and will hopefully continue to work toward in the coming years. As Co-Chair of the Housing Committee this term, I have helped steer the Housing Committee through the process of introducing and vetting the Affordable Housing Overlay, and I worked hard to shepherd that through numerous committee hearings as we passed it along to the Ordinance Committee and - hopefully the this fall - to a full vote by the City Council. I continue to publicly advocate for the creation of more affordable units throughout the city, and for those units to be more equitably distributed. I continue to advocate, both in public and in my meetings with the City Manager, for an infusion of an additional $100 million (beyond what we would normally spend) towards the creation and preservation of affordable housing over the next five years. And I will continue to take meetings, hold discussions, hold neighborhood gatherings - whatever is necessary - to help my fellow Cambridge residents understand that the creation of new affordable units is not only good for the specific individuals that are in need of such housing, but a net positive for the continued vibrancy, livability, and character of our entire city.

connect