Risa Mednick

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

Cambridge’s high priced housing market is driven by gentrification, the speculative market, growing biotech tech industry hub and concomitant jobs with high salaries, along with the usual pressures of a short supply of student housing also impact the local market in a city that’s home to 3 universities and tens of thousands of students.

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

High housing prices are creating a price increase and displacement ripple effect throughout the region.

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

The City has been proactive in creating its inclusionary rental and limited equity ownership programs over the years, and currently has the resources to increase its capacity. The city can also use its own surplus revenue to supplement vouchers and increase low income residents’ access to market-rate housing.

We also need to push the state to increase money for social voucher programs, and increase incentives for landlords to accept vouchers by updating fair market value to reflect real market value. We need more funding in general for project based section 8 - more money to create more housing. And we should push the Governor to use the RMV tax towards more housing and affordable housing programs.

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

Excessively high priced market-rate housing drives up rental and ownership prices throughout the city. The development of new affordable housing has no impact on market-rate pricing or the neighborhood desirability. A case-in-point is the Cambridge Housing Authority’s 100% subsidized housing at 5 Temple Place and the year-over-year escalation of private home and condo sale prices in the vicinity.

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

Climate change is causing extreme weather and natural disasters, which lead to increased displacement everywhere. Large scale corporate development in Cambridge Storms and flooding can batter communities and low income people often reside in neighborhoods that are most vulnerable to their impact. In some cases, low income homeowners/landlords cannot afford to adequately repair building damage and housing quality diminishes. Cambridge needs to invest in climate resilient infrastructure; consistently update building code standards to address energy efficiency; uphold its commitment to Net Zero building design and construction; incentivize green design for affordable and subsidized housing development, and encourage (and commit to) improved public transportation. Further, the city can shift expectations so that commercial and academic developers address their environmental impact on our small city and become responsible corporate citizens.

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

Urban density and increased mixed-use neighborhoods can lessen economic, cultural and racial segregation and, if supported by increased public transportation, cycling and micro-mobility enhancements, lessen reliance on cars. However, more development, in general, is a net loss for the environment as more people consume more infrastructural capacity, use more fossil fuel, and generate more waste.

Do you support the Affordable Housing Overlay? Please explain.

Yes: The Affordable Housing Overlay is a tool to increase critically needed affordable housing, but it could be stronger. Simply decreasing red tape doesn’t necessarily increase affordable housing in the time frame in which it is needed. We will still need increased funding to make a serious dent in affordability. Cambridge has a huge amount of un-levied tax, which could be pooled to help nonprofit developers get through the planning and design processes. A comprehensive affordable housing action plan is urgently needed.

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

Generally: Parking needs need to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Equally important to assessing residential parking is addressing the volume of parking associated with new commercial development. I advocate for a comprehensive and accurate study of car use and parking in Cambridge as well as real-time resident surveys. To date, traffic and parking studies have not accurately represented day-to-day reality.

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

Yes: We must understand zoning from a social equity perspective. We cannot continue to justify what is tantamount to exclusionary zoning in the name of historic preservation. We cannot support endless commercial development in some parts of the city without assessing its impact on housing and infrastructure in the whole community. Cities evolve. Our challenge now is to prioritize human needs over corporate interests.

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

We can create a strategy to curb excessive rent escalations for tenants, increase tenants’ rights (like giving tenants’ right of first refusal) and tools for eviction-prevention (like low- and pro-bono legal services), and create and support community land trusts. We can pass a condo conversion ordinance, which gives tenants more time and notice, thereby preventing landlords from flipping properties. We can provide subsidies to participants in inclusionary ownership programs when condo fees escalate. We can promote the existence of city-sponsored financial support programs and document their use. (* denotes statewide action)

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

Our city needs to prioritize a holistic approach to multi modal transportation utilizing best practices from other communities. Reducing parking space requirements for new development, and eliminating parking spots in areas of the city that are well-served by public transportation are reasonable goals. However, understanding the equity implications of doing so must underlie policy. It will remain impossible to reduce car use if transit capacity is insufficient, people are afraid to bike on most streets, and low income people need to commute farther from home for jobs.

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

The city should: 1. utilize its budget surplus to increase funding to the Affordable Housing Trust to support the development of affordable housing; 2. increase developer “linkage” fees; 3. increase the percentage of inclusionary housing required in new mixed and market-rate developments;

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?

The city should use its revenue to expand its portfolio of inclusionary rental housing and limited-equity home-ownership opportunities. Creating pathways for Housing Authority tenants and voucher holders to increase income and economic stability without being displaced is a critical part of this process. In doing so, very low income families can access safe, stable housing in Cambridge and we can demonstrate a commitment to sustaining cultural and economic diversity in this community. Cambridge does not need more 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)

I support tax credits to incentivize and reward owners who keep their rents below market, and tax repayment programs to help homeowners who have fallen on hard times.

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

-Living wage jobs -Universal Pre-K and closing the education achievement gap -Public infrastructure that helps people of all ages navigate in the world, from municipal broadband to accessible, reliable transportation and safe, complete streets -Well-coordinated and evaluated support services that effectively meet real community needs -Upholding commitments to reduce carbon emissions to meet Net Zero goals -Advancing a culture among city leadership that is accountable to everyone who calls Cambridge home

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

I have proven experience working with the city of Cambridge on housing issues. I’ve been working with homeless survivors of domestic violence on affordable housing issues for over a decade. I know the impossible challenges very low income people face when seeking a safe, sustainable home they can afford. I’ve worked in collaboration with the City of Cambridge to preserve and increase access to housing and services for homeless people and to broaden preference standards for inclusionary housing to include survivors of violence. I’ve also worked in partnership with the Cambridge Housing Authority to create a pathway that allows homeless survivors of violence to access affordable housing. I have brought state grant funding into the equation to make up the difference between voucher rates and market rates so that individuals and families could move more swiftly into sustainable housing. This is a model I will advocate for the city to adopt.