What do you think are the causes of Cambridge’s high-priced housing market?
There are numerous reasons why Cambridge is such an expensive place to live. We are a diverse, dynamic city, with strong schools, and a low crime rate. People want to live here. We are also a city with a booming economy. Unlike when we were a manufacturing powerhouse, the jobs being created in Cambridge today, are in biotech, pharma and innovation. Jobs that pay far better then the candy factory jobs of the past. As our industry changes and grows, and as more people move back to cities, our housing production has not kept pace with our growth. This is true, not just for Cambridge, but for the entire Metro Boston area. We need to build more housing to meet this need. Information provided by the Community Development Department shows that during the last recession, when housing production stopped, Cambridge rents went up at the highest percentage since the loss of rent control. Over the past several years as more housing has been produced, rents have stabilized and actually gone down in some cases. Building housing works.
How have high housing prices affected Cambridge and the surrounding region?
As housing prices have risen, both in terms of home ownership and rental, we have seen a demographic change in Cambridge. Although our racial demographics have remained relatively consistent, our economic diversity has suffered. We have increasingly become a city where higher income earners can afford to live and those in the middle cannot, with those on the lower end still being served by our public housing programs. That loss of diversity is changing the face of Cambridge. As more and more people get pushed further and further out from Cambridge and the surrounding region, not only are our schools impacted, but so is our job market, and our environment (more people have to drive to work).
What housing options currently exist for low-income tenants who are not high on the affordable housing waitlists? How can Cambridge help them?
This is a major problem. The Cambridge Housing Authority currently has a waitlist of 19,000 with 5,000 of those being people who live and/or work in Cambridge. Our Inclusionary Zoning program is helpful but does not do enough for those on the lowest end of the income spectrum. Unless those folks have a housing voucher, their income often falls below the requirements needed to be in IZ eligible. Cambridge should re-evaluate ALL the tenant selection criteria in existing affordable housing programs (including those owned by City non-profits and for profit providers) to encourage adoption of priorities that would better allow those families at imminent risk of displacement from the City to timely access affordable housing; I would consider developing a municipally funded Section 8 incentive program to incentivize Cambridge landlords to rent to families with Section 8 vouchers. Cambridge could provide "gap vouchers" to cover the gap between where Section 8 maxes out and market rent begins.
How does new market-rate residential development affect the affordability of Cambridge? How does new affordable housing affect the affordability of Cambridge?
I believe that market rate residential development is important to maintaining affordability in Cambridge. Unlike some who believe that if we don't build housing, people will stop moving here, I believe that people will be moving to Cambridge whether there is new housing built or not. If we don't supply new housing, including market rate, then those moving here will outbid those earning less than them for the housing that is already here. Supply and demand applies to Cambridge as well. By adding new affordable housing, we are able to supply more housing for those who are not earning higher salaries. I meet with people every day who are in desperate need of housing. Some are homeless, some have decent paying jobs and earn too much to qualify for assistance but not enough to pay market rent. We need to build more housing in general, but more affordable housing specifically.
What is the relationship between the twin crises of climate change and housing unaffordability? How can Cambridge address both?
As more and more people are pushed further and further out of Cambridge because of housing unaffordability, and with a public transportation system that is unreliable, we see more and more people having to drive into the city for work. This increases carbon emissions and traffic. By building more housing in the city for all income levels, and focusing on building near transit hubs, more people can live in the city near where they work or more easily access public transit (as flawed as it is). Residential buildings only account for a small percentage of our carbon emissions. Our labs account for 80%. So, although we need to concentrate on residential developments to ensure that they are built with high environmental standards, it is our labs and commercial buildings causing most of the problem.
What effects might more housing in Cambridge have on quality of life or the environment?
I think that building more housing, more densely and near transit is better for the environment. Again, people are going to be moving to Cambridge so long as we remain and attractive place to live, work and play. If we don't supply more housing then we are going to become more and more unaffordable and further negatively impact our environment.
Do you support the Affordable Housing Overlay? Please explain.
Yes: It is virtually impossible for affordable housing developers to purchase property in the city of Cambridge. It has been 7 years since Just-A-Start has purchased new land. By offering height, density and permitting incentives, the AHO would make it more financially viable to build affordable housing in our city. This is crucial. I know that many people say they support affordable housing, my question is do they support it enough? Do they support it enough to have a slightly taller building on their street? Do they support it enough to have a two unit home turned into a six unit home? Do they support it enough to not appeal an affordable project because they don't like the look of the building? While many focus on height, density and appearance, I focus on who gets to live in our city and who doesn't. If we truly believe in living in a diverse community, then we need to take bold action to make that happen. The housing market has changed. Low and middle income people, younger people, and families just starting out, cannot afford to rent, let alone purchase a home, as they were able to do 30, 40, 50 years ago. My family could never afford to live in Cambridge today. The AHO would lead to more affordable housing being built throughout the city. Let's live the values we say we have.
Would you support eliminating parking minimums for new housing development citywide? Please explain.
Yes: Car ownership in Cambridge has been declining for years. A recent study showed that over 30% of the parking in new developments in the metro Boston area goes unused. We need to change our policy on parking minimums. I recently supported an amendment to the AHO to eliminate parking requirements.
Would you support abolishing these restrictions by establishing citywide minimum zoning that allows more multifamily housing? Please explain.
Yes: If you lay the current map affordable housing map of Cambridge over the redlining map of Cambridge, you will see that they are virtually identical. Zoning decisions of the past, decision that were made on race and class, have dictated where people can and cannot live in our city. Although none of us are responsible for that racist zoning of the past, we are responsible for dismantling it in the present. There are sections of Cambridge that are completely off-limits to low and moderate income people. We need to take steps to change that. That is another reason why the AHO is so important. I would support a policy like the one in Minneapolis that bans single family home zoning.
What measures in particular should Cambridge adopt to prevent tenant displacement?
Displacement is a huge issue facing our city. Most of the families who come to see me are not being displaced because of large, new projects, but because their smaller building (3 to 10 units) was sold far over it's assessed value, leading to tenants being evicted or leases not being renewed so the new owner can renovate the building. That is why I formed the city's first Mayor's Office Tenants Displacement Task Force being led by Councillor Siddiqui. This task force will make a series of recommendations to address tenant displacement. Here are a few things I would suggest: 1. developing a locally based condominium conversion law with protections greater than those provided under the state condominium law that has not been updated since 1983. 2. I would also consider developing a system for requiring permits for condominium conversion in order to better enforce any new condo law designed to protect tenants at risk of displacement. 3. support state legislation creating a tenants' right to counsel in eviction cases. Their is currently a huge imbalance of power in eviction proceedings both in Cambridge and throughout the state. In Cambridge, data in recent years suggests that over 90% of Cambridge landlords are generally represented by counsel while less than 10% of tenants are represented. (homerule). 4. support state legislation known as the HOMES Act (housing opportunity and Mobility through Eviction Sealing] to ensure that certain eviction records will be sealed including those where there has been no finding of fault against any tenant. 5. I would consider support for just cause eviction protections either for all tenants or for a more limited pool of tenants (homerule). 6. I strongly support Cambridge's adoption of a real estate transfer fee (homerule)
What should the city do to increase walking, biking, and transit usage in Cambridge?
Cambridge is already the top city in the country where people commute to work in ways other than driving, but we can and should do more. I recently authored a first of it's kind ordinance requiring the city to build dedicated bike lanes during all major street construction. I supported the city contributing funds to the Green Line Extension project to ensure that it moved forward. I would support the city contributing more to the MBTA for Red Line improvements. I worked with students from CRLS to have the city provide free bus passes to low-income high school students to increase their use of public transportation. I have supported expansion of our Blue Bikes program. I also support dedicated bus only lanes. So, in short, we are doing a lot already, but building out our bike network, providing more funding to improve public transportation, providing better services and infrastructure are all things we need to continue to push.
What should the city do, if anything, to increase funding for housing affordability?
Last term I filed a policy order asking the city to direct a higher percentage of building permit money directly to affordable housing. This has led to increased funding. I worked with the City Manager in this years budget to double the amount of funding the city contributes to affordable housing from $10 million to $20 million. We should invest more money in homeless prevention (helping people when they fall behind on their rent). We should be building on city owned parking lots and land. Harvard just announced a $20 million dollar investment for affordable housing in Boston and Cambridge. We need to continue to work with our university partners to increase funding.
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?
We need to pass the AHO. We need to move forward discussing the housing recommendations in Envision Cambridge. We need to put more city funds into affordable housing development. We need to build on city owned property. We need to partner with our university and corporate partners to fund more housing. We should raise the linkage fee to increase funding to the Affordable Housing Trust by commercial developers. At the end of the day, we need to build more 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)
We need to build more supportive housing for the homeless. Many of our homeless community members who are placed in IZ units, find it difficult to make that adjustment, especially if they are struggling with substance use disorders. Many would be better served by a transitional step where they can move from homelessness to housing that has built in support services.
Aside from housing and development issues, what are some major policy priorities that you hope to push for on the City Council?
Addressing our issues of poverty, and food insecurity. Expanding early childhood education. Addressing substance use disorder. Homelessness. Immigration. Equity in our city and public schools. Climate change/sustainability.
What have you done to advance the goals you’ve described in your answers above in your own work?
Affordable Housing: Led the effort to more than double the linkage fee, generating millions of dollars for the Affordable Housing Trust. Led the effort to increase our Incluzionary Zoning percentage from 11.5% to 20% (the highest in the State). Leading voice in support of the AHO. Appointed the Mayor's Task Force on Tenant Displacement. Filed a policy order calling for a transfer tax to generate more revenue for affordable housing.
Immigration: Launched the Cambridge Legal Defense Fund for Immigrants, raising close to $300,000 to provide legal assistance to immigrants who live an work in Cambridge. Sponsored a policy order requesting a homerule petition to allow green card holders to vote in municipal elections. Filed a policy order recommitting Cambridge to remaining a Sanctuary City. Advocated at the State House for passage of the Safe Communities Act.
Poverty/Hunger: Started a program bringing free breakfast to every student in the Cambridge public schools. Eliminated the "Reduced Lunch" category, bringing free lunch to over 500 public school students whose families earned too much for free lunch, but not enough to pay for lunch. Worked with the Boston Labor Council and MIT to bring the Pathways program to Cambridge, which will provide training to young adults between 18-24 so they can access jobs in the trades and better support themselves and their families. Worked with Councillors Mallon and Siddiqui to start a Child's Savings Account program, where the city will open a savings account for every kindergarten student who registers in CPS to help build their savings for post high school.
Homelessness: Opened the city's first Warming Center for the Homeless to provide shelter during the winter for homeless who cannot access a shelter. Started a program to fund the acquisition of needed vital records to help homeless folks obtain the documentation they require to access housing programs. Worked at the state level to increase funding for homelessness prevention.
Opioid use: Launched the city's first opioid task force. Served on the state's Harm Reduction Commission. Filed a policy order requiring our first responders to carry Narcan. Led a delegation to Montreal to research Safe Consumption Sites to open such a site in Cambridge. Sponsored the city's first training on administrating Narcan.
Equity: Launched Cambridge Digs DEEP, a series of conversations to address issues of equity in our community. Added funding to the public school budget to continue work on equity and diversity training for our teachers and staff. Launched the first Mayor's Outreach Team to bring City Hall to under represented neighborhoods.
Climate Change/environment: Launched a task force to look at ways to ensure that new development is addressing issues of climate change. Strengthened Cambridge's relations both in Metro Boston and with the German Marshall Fund to share ideas on ways to address climate change. Worked with Mother's Out Front to address gas leaks in our community. Supported Cambridge's plastic bag ban and polystyrene ban, offering amendments supported by the Sierra Club to strengthen these two ordinances. Wrote the first of it's kind ordinance to require protected bike lanes to built during major street construction.
Arts: Started the first Mayor's Arts Task Force, led by Councillor Mallon to address ways to better support arts and artists in our community.