CCCis pleased to announce...
-Our First Cambridge City Council Open Forum-
Date: October 6, 2019
Time: 5:00-7:00 PM
Place: Washburn Auditorium, Lesley University, 6 Phillips Place
Who RSVP'd to participate in our inaugural CCC event?
Current City Councillors and Challengers Include:
*indicates current Councillors
The 2019 Cambridge City Council
What issues does our Questionnaire address?
We prepared an even dozen questions to contemplate
How would you fare?
1. Cambridge’s tree canopy is shrinking, with a 22% decline in just the last decade. Given climate change and the direct impact trees have on keeping cities cooler, do you believe mature trees should be cut for new affordable housing or other developments? What would you do to protect and expand Cambridge’s tree canopy? As one of the 5 most densely populated cities in the U.S over 100,000 people, would you protect current zoning and environmental regulations that balance growth with livability?
2. The City is running out of electrical capacity, roads in many parts of the city are in poor condition, traffic keeps increasing with new developments, T capacity maxes out at peak periods and is unreliable, and in one neighborhood an 1860’s water main burst leaving residents with over a million dollars in losses. As City Councilor, what would you do to address these basic infrastructure issues? How would you address related problems that increased density and overdevelopment are causing?
3. Local businesses are at great risk in the city and business vacancies are increasing, what would you do as Councilor to enhance the economic viability of local businesses in the city?
4. Nearly 68% of our residents are renters. Too many are threatened with lease terminations when their buildings are purchased for condos. State law prohibits rent control but allows tenants two years of protection when their apartments are converted. Should the City create a taskforce to work with these tenants to find new housing or, optimally, to be able to buy their units? Are there other means that you would use to provide protections for all tenants who face escalating rents?
5. The City has a laudable goal of producing 100 affordable housing units annually (in addition to those units created by set-asides in market rate developments). With the City now producing 40-60 units each year, how do you suggest the City reach its goal?
6. With Cambridge’s cost of housing so high, would you encourage creative ways to increasing housing, including (but not limited to) allowing up to two new units within the shell of current residences or by allowing other accessary dwelling units?
7. While the Cambridge Historical Commission (CHC) has done fine work for decades, it has limited power in the face of the rampant development of recent years. How can the CHC be strengthened to protect Cambridge’s unique architectural history while still allowing reasonable growth?
8. While the City Council does not run the schools, it does vote on the overall School Department budget. What would you do to expand early childhood education (3- and 4-year olds) in the City so that all Cambridge children have an equitable start in life?
9. Most current Cambridge households have at least one car. Many residents can’t rely on public transportation to get to overnight jobs, work outside of Cambridge, or to travel for work between sites. What standard would you use to require developers to provide parking for new affordable and market-rate residential developments?
10. The City has helped make biking safer and more popular, which is a positive development for everyone. Many bicyclists follow the rules of the road, however many do not. How should the City encourage cyclists to follow its traffic laws?
11. Under the strong manager form of government that Cambridge adopted in 1940, it can be difficult for citizens to be heard at City Hall. What would you do to make government overall, not just the Council’s work, more transparent and accountable to residents?
12 What question do you wish we had asked you, but didn’t? How would you answer it?
The pro-AHO website that is working with the developer-funded political PAC "A Better Cambridge AF", that has been gunning for CCC - and whose illegal and dishonest posters were plastered all around Central Square, MIT and Harvard Square last weekend - has come out with another CCC attack over the AHO handout published on our site. CCC has responded to each of their critiques, in some cases, redrawing our handouts to make sure they were correct and clear. And we have notified this group of these changes and have thanked them for pointing out factual errors if they exist. This group has recently posted another attack piece, in what is looking increasingly like an open season of tit-for-tat. It all seems silly, except for the fact that their most recent poster is so dishonest. So at the risk of engaging long after the issue has concluded, let's take a look at their recent critique. The CCC image in question is shown below. The image went through 5-7 reviews by professionals on our end and we stand by its accuracy.
What is this group (that calls itself Affordable Housing Overlay-Reality or AHOR) saying about the above CCC hand out image ? Is there any reason for correction?
AHOR: The latest updates to the “Yes to Affordable Housing” flyer... once again introduce new visuals that, like previous images published by CCC, do not accurately represent the heights of buildings that would be allowed under the Overlay. It also includes other inaccuracies and misleading language; and the v4 version of the flyer introduced on 2019-08-23, reincluded the most false claim that CCC has made to date. If you see anyone sharing this flyer, I recommend you link them to this page."
CCC: On roof decks as the most false CCC claim to date? Hyperbole aside, if AHOR had attended the recent Ordinance Committee meetings or had listened to them, they would have heard that roof decks on new AHO projects received 100% support from the full Council attending the meeting, whereas many other things received split decisions at best. So if the AHO passes, it will clearly allow roof decks on new AHO developments. And, because roof decks likely will constitute at least part of the required open space, they will likely be sizable, because this would mean that even more of current open spaces (green spaces) could be removed from the ground area, shifting this requirement to the top of the buildings, to allow even greater density. We stand by our architectural rendering.
AHOR: The two-and-a-half story house is used as a reference point. 2.5 story houses in Cambridge have a median height of ~35 feet. Extrapolating from that, the building immediately to the right, which has some kind of projected roof deck, is 63 feet tall, not 45 feet tall, as the flyer claims. The flyer claims that this building would be allowed citywide, in all residential areas, but that is not true. In neighborhoods where the base zoning allows heights of 40 feet or less, buildings can be no taller than 45 feet, unless the first floor is being used for non-residential purposes. In that case, the building can be 50 feet tall. On 80 percent of Cambridge’s non-institutional land, buildings of more than 50 feet will not be permitted.
CCC: This CCC handout includes an artistic rendering showing relative (comparative) heights of buildings. As with all architectural or artist renderings, the image is intended to give a perception of the relative heights and massing, Perceptions of height will naturally change depending on the location of a viewer. In this case CCC chose to draw on the relationship between the floor/window heights of the shorter building in relationship with the floor/windows of the reference to the adjacent “new” AHO structure in making this visual comparative. As noted above this is a rendering (a visual reference) not a photograph of two actual buildings.
AHOR: The buildings pictured have gained prominent enclosed roof deck features above the allowed height of the buildings; these would not be allowed (unlike mechanicals, enclosed features like this are counted in the building's height for the purposes of zoning). The building immediately to the right also appears to feature garden-level apartment space (ie, half-windows that would typically be used for apartments, not for storage). Apartments like this are not allowed under the currently amended version of the proposed ordinance.
CCC: Again, this architectural rendering (not photograph) is being employed to convey the sense of massing and scale. From the ground level (or from a neighbor's residence) perceptions will change. The type of secure wall/fencing surrounding a roof deck for protection, would be considerable so thatall residents would be able to enjoy this space without security hazard. This wall would add even greater height and perception of height to the building, as would the nearly full-floor height "head-houses" that will be necessary for stairs and an elevator to reach this roof top open space. As to the windows at the ground level, please note: nowhere on this image is there any indication that these are apartments (residences) – they more likely would be community spaces, pre-school class rooms or spaces used for other similar uses.
AHOR: The building on the far right is 90 feet tall, not 80 feet tall, as the flyer claims. It also claims that they would be allowed “on corridors.” That is, at best, misleading. Portions of Massachusetts Avenue would allow 80-foot buildings where base zoning does not allow that height. However, other stretches would not allow this. Along Massachusetts Avenue, from Harvard Square to the Arlington border, with the exception of the area immediately around Porter Square, heights cannot exceed 65 feet, and they must not be more than six stories. Those numbers also apply to Cambridge Street. A bullet point below the images makes the same erroneous claim that 80-foot buildings are allowed wherever the base zoning allows 45-foot buildings; this is not accurate in the current amended version of the proposed ordinance.
CCC: Where is this 90’ tall AHOR claim coming from? Certainly NOT from the CCC handout. The image of this building is referencing visually a 7 story (80’ high building, similar to those to be allowed on the corridors. The language of the AHO, should it pass, indicates that 7 story structures would be allowed on major corridors which is stated here. Note that 5.2.1b of the Overlay language specifies “Where the District Dimensional Standards allow a maximum building height of more than 40 feet, an AHO Project shall contain no more than seven Stories Above Grade and shall have a maximum height of 80 feet, as measured from existing Grade, except as further limited below.” It would be nice if for profit and non-profit Affordable Housing Developers would produce lower buildings to match differences in scale with adjacent buildings and neighborhoods but the AHO specifically does NOT include that. And the final decision will be up to the developer and the staff of the unelected City Manager.
AHOR: Below the image is an exclamation that “this could happen in every neighborhood!” At a glance, a passing observer might believe that not only the 63-foot building could be built in every neighborhood, but also the 90-foot building. This would not be the case: most neighborhoods do not have any area that would allow 90 foot tall buildings as visually depicted.
CCC: The language “in every neighborhood” references the two districts being created in the AHO – namely corridors and the residential areas, and in both cases the language written on the above visual is correct.
AHOR: An intermediate form of this flyer (which was not reviewed for this site, as it contained no new false representations) removed the previously-mentioned claim of 350' tall buildings. However, in the flyer published on 2019-08-23, this bullet point was re-added to the flyer. This error was brought to CCC’s attention, and they removed it from a downloadable PDF, but they did not make the correction to the their blog post on the topic, which still claims this is true after being corrected on this point by this website. Given that CCC has made this false claim before, has been alerted, made the requested change, but did nothing to correct this misinformation in their published content and reincluded this point in a flyer they distributed via their website suggests, at best, carelessness. This was corrected only after once again publicly calling out the CCC for redistributing these false claims; at no point has the CCC corrected the ongoing misinformation included in their blog on this topic, on the basis of which they have attacked the credibility of this website.
CCC: The earlier blog post has been corrected (and the 350 feet removed). As noted in that same blog post, the 350’ figure was based on a map furnished by CDD for the AHO. They later clarified what would be allowed in the AHO, indicating that the 350’ would not in fact be allowed except by special permit.
AHOR: I rate this latest flyer 3 Pinocchios on the basis of the prominent, newly introduced roof deck features which are in violation of allowed zoning; and believe that CCC's continued carelessness in sharing information continues to put their credibility of any newly introduced materials in serious question.
CCC: The city (CDD) has frequently changed its writing on the AHO. CCC is willing to address any mistakes or changes and correct them. However, as has been shown over the last few months, AHOR and their affiliates A Better Cambridge and A Better Cambridge AF have not only been irresponsible in their social media attacks of opponents to the AHO (including candidates for City Council), but also stunningly dishonest. See: http://www.cccoalition.org/blog/wantedreward-political-postering-on-the-aho
Today (August 29, 2019) the the creator of the AHOR website and the Communications Director of ABC have chosen to further the discussion.
A point of clarification: Mr. Schmidt writes “I also support the work of pro-housing organizations in Cambridge (ABC + ABC AF) – but this opinion is entirely my own, not that of ABC. It is formed not out of the sense of disagreement I have with their positions (which is profound), but rather their willingness to misinform."
Fair enough, but Mr.Schmidt goes on to state that: “In full disclosure: the CCC has personally attacked me in their blog several times for pointing out their intentional falsehoods; I also run the @ahoreality website my self that attempts to discredit their falsehoods."
Patently False. CCC is NOT attempting to "misinform" anyone. Nor, has CCC "personally attacked" Mr. Schmidt . Indeed, we have thanked Mr. Schmidt for pointing out factual problems. Here are places on CCC where Mr. Schmidt has been mentioned:
One post reads "Thanks :Dan Eisner and Christopher Schmidt for corrections."
Another post reads "A new website has emerged on the 100% Affordable Housing Overlay (AHO) proposal, created by Christopher Schmidt, and under the name of 'Affordable Housing Overlay Reality.' Schmidt has frequently spoken out in favor of the AHO at City Council, Planning Board, and other meetings."
A third reads: "Christopher Schmidt, who created the Affordably Housing Overlay Reality (AHOR) website was notified of this change." We do NOT see how these references can be construed as personal attacks in any framing of the term.
The image below of references to Mr. Schmidt on the CCC makes this clear:
Nothing in these three posts refers to Mr. Schmidt in any way that resembles an attack - personal or otherwise. Indeed both he and Mr. Eisner are thanked in one of them, and the statement on Mr. Schmidt's public statements are fact based and accurate.
On imagery: Mr. Schmidt is concerned that the CCC image of AHO impacts posted near the top of this blog is inaccurate, despite the fact that we have repeatedly said it is intended to give a sense of the height and massing visual impacts and unlike a photograph is not based on an actual Cambridge setting. Alas, no structures in Cambridge have been built using AHO guidelines which removes Planning Board design oversight, as well as current setbacks and height regulations. It is also important to point out that building photographs posted on the AHOR website and in the illegal flier that was mounted last weekend in public spaces in Central Square, MIT, and Harvard Square is based on false examples. Like the image on the left from the AHOR facebook page, NONE of these buildings wee created using the new system. The top image on the left is much shorter than those allowed in the proposed AHO - and has more green space. None of these show the massive seven story heights that will be allowed on the main corridors. And the image in the poster on the right includes two historic Cambridge homes that have been reused for new affordable housing efforts, the AHO is NOT INTENDED to be used for this kind of reuse, but instead was written to encourage the building of large new structures that will be far cheaper to build - and would be done "as-of-right" removing current citizen's ability to appeal.
But there is More: Mr. Eisner has taken up in social media a Nextdoor statement today by a CCC Director, to the effect that 7 story buildings would be allowed on Huron Avenue. This CCC Director has made a correction to this statement on this site, adding "We are not talking about a "single story addition to Huron Village". On corridors, such as where Sarah's, Formaggio, Hi Rise, Armando's, and Fresh Pond Market now stand, up to 5 stories would be allowed, assuming an active ground floor. Obviously, those businesses would relocate or disappear if their buildings were affected. On side streets, the damage would in many cases be 2 additional stories with dramatically reduced front yards, back yards and setbacks from neighbors next door. In general, we're looking at 2-4X the height, up to 10X the density of existing structures." To reiterate, under the AHO Huron Avenue now a neighborhood center with many small local businesses, could become an area of 4 story structures (5 stories if there is an active ground floor use) replacing current one and two story structures. This would be "as-of-right" without the current citizen ability to appeal. This four or five story height increase IS a significant change, and the Director's point on Nextdoor on the loss of local businesses - this too is very valid - here and elsewhere in the city, since no business can go under for 1-2 years while their building is being razed and reconstructed. Moreover, this Nextdoor post was NOT an attempt at misinformation, but rather reflects the many months of changes occurring as the CDD unfolded the AHO plan. 7 story (80' buildings) would be allowed "as-of-right" on the "major corridors" - Mass Ave and Cambridge Street for example - in some areas replacing one and two story structures and causing the closure of local businesses. Moreover to state, as Mr. Schmidt does, that "The average height of current buildings in residential zones is 34’" implying that there will be few impacts of a four, five or seven story building (50' to 80') on a local neighborhood is simply wrong. Context is key and in a neighborhoods with one or two story buildings the AHO changes would dramatically alter a neighborhood, particularly one with historic buildings.
Mr. Schmidt adds: "What I did not expect at the time is that 'one of their own directors' would be sharing this misinformation, months later, after writing thousands of words attempting to correct this misinformation over multiple platforms. This is further evidence of the CCC’s willingness to mislead."
Here we must also push back, in the same way that Mr. Schmidt insists that he is speaking for himself, not ABC or his employer, Google, the Director was NOT speaking for CCC. Moreover, as noted above, he has gone back to the site to correct the information. It is to be hoped that AHOR and ABC/ABC AF will correct their misinformation on the AHO in their imagery and texts on the Overlay as well.
Finally, we need to end the kind of vitriol: When ABC's communication director writes that “The Cambridge Citizens Coalition is doing their best to prove that the internet was a mistake" and that "Cambridge Citizens Coalition is embarrassing itself with its disinformation campaign. Their endless stream of false and misleading claims proves they are an illegitimate organization that should be treated as such." The AHOR site creator endorsed this view: "With this in mind, I strongly endorse Dan’s position: The CCC’s constant efforts to mislead are pure fearmongering. It is an illegitimate organization, and should be treated as such."
All we can say is that we strenuously disagree! CCC has not been promoting a disinformation campaign. Furthermore we insist that ABC/ABC AF and others who support them, stop the vitriol. CCC will continue to address not just the current flawed and deeply problematic AHO until it dies in committee. We also will be active in the election and beyond , focusing in the years ahead on issues of good government in a variety or areas.
Why this attack on CCC is happening now seems very clear. Just a few weeks ago Mr. Eisner posted "Cambridge Citizens Coalition has been the most vocal and best-organized group opposing the Affordable Housing Overlay in #CambMA."
It would seem that our very success in addressing these issues is part of the reason for the attacks now!
Whatever the reason for the current attacks and critique it is important as CCC move forward in our effort and both shine light on and push back on the kind of vitriol that these posters have espoused.
Over the weekend and this week, posters promoting the Affordable Housing Overlay were scotch-taped onto poles and open spaces in public areas of Central Square, Kendall Square, and Harvard Square among other places. This illegal act represents a large scale intrusion of the politics of one particular Cambridge political party into the main squares of the city. Election season has officially opened in Cambridge! This is clearly the case since this is far less about getting Cambridge residents to lobby Council members to support the flawed and failing AHO, and more about collecting names of people that can be called on to try to get people to vote against Council members and candidates who have come out in favor of letting the AHO die in committee, as is now expected.
Wanted (!)) according to the creators of this poster are people to "sign the petition to let Council know you want more affordable housing." A url address follows so that you can follow up with a quick on-line response, or you can text your name to a phone number (neither of which is linked to a specific individual or website. To date this petition effort seems not to have had much success, begun three months ago, it had only 75 names a few days ago. And, how seriously would Council members take it anyway since only the first names and last initials are listed, although some signers names can be guessed, simply because they are activists and leaders in the pro-developer AHO-supporting political PAC A Better Cambridge AF. And there is a lot in this poster that is not only false but also intended to deceive.
The Election season has clearly begun, and if this postering of a very dishonest poster is any example of what is to come we are in for a real doozy. The dominant political party in the city, A Better Cambridge, is attacking opponents full steam. A few days ago Candidate Patricia Nolan was attacked by the communications director of ABC Dan Eisner in an opinion piece in the Chronicle following her thoughtful piece on the need for Cambridge to evaluate all the alternatives for Affordable Housing. Yes we can have our differences, but this kind of personal attack, like the attack of an AHO opponents wikipedia page this spring needs to stop. And we need to to make sure that the information that we are putting out to the public is both honest and factually correct.
The word "REWARD" often accompanies "WANTED" posters, and it is no less true here. Implicit in the AHOR poster that is . being plastered around . the city is the "reward" that if Council votes to PASS the AHO that young people and others will finally be able to get affordable housing in the city. This is patently false. Between 0 and 60 new units are expected to be built if the AHO passes, no where near enough to address the circa 19,000 people on the affordable housing list, much less all those like the newly arrived Google and Bio-tech employees with considerably higher salaries who are struggling to find housing in Cambridge, don't want to commute from outside, and who are already forcing long time residents out of their homes and neighborhoods as these units are gobbled up for quick turn-around renovations for expensive leases or sales. The AHO will not help any of these people. Wanted - and Reward - for those Councillors willing to stand up to the AHO and help us put in place a viable affordable housing process and plan in the next Council term and in years following.
It is unlawful to post notices on publicly or privately owned utility poles in Cambridge without permission. The applicable provisions from the Cambridge City Code are reproduced below.
The newspaper, Dig Boston, has published two opinion pieces on the Affordable Housing Overlay.
Update: The Dig Boston editor, Jason Pramas emailed that he had added the image below and a link to the digital version of the piece in an update. He also notes that that " the genesis of his article was a discussion he and the other author were having about AHO. Pramas said "you should really write up your views as an op-ed." He agreed, and wrote representing himself... not ABC."
You can read the two opinion pieces HERE:
There are a number of problems with the way that these opinion pieces were engaged, including not only changing imagery between the print and on-line versions, problematic edits to an AHO handout, and the lack of identity of one of the authors as an affiliate of a local developer-funded Political PAC advocating for the AHO's passage.
Explanation of the top image, The author of the first piede, who is part of Cambridge's developer-funded political group and political PAC, A Better Cambridge (ABC and ABC AF), chose to publish this image showing with his edits of an AHO Artist Poster made earlier this summer. His edits contain many misrepresentations of both the artist's original poster and of the impacts the AHO will have if it passes. This image shows corrections of those edits that indicate how disingenuous his image edits are.
The Dig Boston editor chose to feature the two opinion pieces as "Dueling Posts" in the physical copy (see image below). A close reading of the pieces reveals a number of problems, not only in terms of the edited image used by the pro-AHO author (which is deeply fallacious (and which needs editorial edits in its own right (see top left) but also a decision by the editor replace the original print version image accompanying the pro-AHO piece with the on-line edited one.
Notice how different the online images are from what was published in the printed issue below!
No explanation is given in the on-line version as to why this was done (see editor's response below).*
In this framing, the paper also mislabel's Blier's piece as "POINT" and Tannenbaum post as "COUNTERPOINT." In truth it was the other way around. The ABC/Tannenbaum piece was accepted for publication first -so it is the "POINT" against which the "COUNTERPOINT" was added (although neither it nor the image was provided to the author before hand). The COUNTERPOINT opportunity was simply offered to Blier to provide an opposing AHO view.
NOTE too that NO WHERE in DIG BOSTON is it mentioned that Tannenbaum is closely identified with the ABC political group that is supporting financially and in other ways the Mayor (Marc McGovern) and other key Councillors promoting the AHO (Councillors Simmons and Mallon among these).
And a few corrections to the Tannenbaum text. This is NOT a “modest increase in height” as Tannenbaum suggests, but rather could increase height 2 to 5 times that of housing or commercial spaces in place now. And it is not only height but also the widths and massing of the allowable new structures that would be changed, curtailing current setback requirements in many neighborhoods that will end in the loss of mature trees, green spaces and parking.
The following statement that “The AHO limits the Planning Board role to one of giving advice, a change opponents have described, in an Orwellian twist of language, as violating their civil rights” is also wholly misguided. In Cambridge, and across our country, Planning Boards play a critical role in determining not only the city plan but also in making final design review decisions on large projects. To REMOVE their role in Oversight and to give this role instead to the un-elected City Manager and the developers themselves (without any checks and balances) is what is truly ORWELLAN. It represents Government Control par excellence and without key citizen rights, legal and otherwise.
We urge readers to go to the CCC website and read the letters posted that cited by Tannenbaum and others.
Specifically on original poster image, it was created by two Cambridge artists not affiliated with either CCC or HSNA. It was taken down from the CCC website after concerns were raised about it after it had been posted on the HSNA list serve. Christopher Schmidt who hosts the pro-AHO and ABC website, Affordable Housing Overlay Reality (AHOR) website was notified of this change.
See the recent CCC Blogpost on architectural renderings and the the broader issue of representation complexities being perpetuated by proponents of the AHO https://www.cccoalition.org/blog/grappling-with-graphics-misrepresenting-the-complexities-of-visualizing-the-aho
Also see the updated AHO handouts are available on CCC - including the one shown below:
*Blier contacted the Dig Boston editor, and here is the latter's response: "[the]...piece was actually filed first during our editorial process; so it became "point." That's it. Either article could have been "point" or "counterpoint" from our perspective." This inaccurate, since Blier was specifically asked to write a piece after the other opinion piece had been accepted. On the image, , the editor responded: "Saul originally submitted a section of the HSNA flyer that he cropped to run with a longer caption—and I agreed to run it since it was specifically referenced in his op-ed—but our designer said it was too low res and wouldn't run it. Saul then gave us a copy of the whole flyer and our designer just laid it out as you saw it in the print edition at the last minute minus any caption. Saul then asked us to run his modified version of the flyer in the digital version, and we agreed." Alas this does not account for the lack of any transparency here on this and other issues.
ALTERNATIVE VISION: Fred Meyer on "An Alternative Vision to Prevent Tenant-Displacement in Cambridge" Cambridge Chronicle 8.15.19
Most longtime lower-wage residents here can't compete, for rent-paying, with the ultra-high wages now being paid employees of new offices and labs staffed with MIT-and-Harvard-style professionals. Here’s a solution to combat this unfair displacement: Let's simply require all creators of new office, educational or lab spaces to create corresponding new apartments… equal to the number of people who will work in the new (or newly-renovated) structures.
All this plan needs to work is this new zoning provision: The new apartments, if they can’t be sited within, say, a 1-mile walk of their workplace, must be served by free landlord-provided work-hour shuttle buses. Some employees will, of course, prefer to (say) ride the train in from Wellesley… or buy a condo instead of renting. So, the unclaimed apartments shall then be opened to other, non-employee Cambridge applicants, entitled to pay no higher rents than employee-tenants play. This provision will increase, instead of decrease, local rental housing…at no cost to our taxpayers!
Kendall Square’s real-estate developers, Harvard and MIT surely will squawk and lobby hard against this proposal. But we’ll win, because they need Cambridge far more than Cambridge needs them….and we vote, and they don't…so we're in the far-stronger negotiating position. Further, these adversaries, with their enormous wealth, can easily afford to fund our fair proposal. Think about it: in the past, haven't our adversaries truly been inconsiderate, or even cruel, to our city's ordinary working folk, for the displacement they’ve been causing so many to endure, for so long now?
Another solution: Some older owners of huge single-family houses here might love to have tenants in a new apartment (or two) created somewhere within their home (perhaps in basement or attic)…to have help with household chores or money for retirement. Unfortunately, our existing zoning for single-family houses does not readily allow that. Why not? Let's simply allow single family houses to be converted to more units…as long as the exterior facade of the house is not changed (except for new entrance(s) not readily visible from the street).
Another realistic solution: Why can't a single-family house be turned into a co-housing community, like one I created in 1963 (before zoning tightened) at 64-66 Wendell St. There we remodeled the interior of a huge empty existing house for my communal-living non-profit group…creating a large shared LR, DR and kitchen… still serving a dozen happy residents who live in 9 bedrooms and share 3 baths. That’s actually the third house this non-profit residential cooperative has moved to…since 1943!
Or consider the handsome Victorian house at 79 Hammond St. that's now converted into a Cambridge Housing Authority communal Halfway-House. (Our current zoning now allows such sensible conversion only for folks who are handicapped. Why that severe limitation? Shouldn't communal living also be permitted any responsible adults who'd like it? [Potentially-noisy undergraduate fraternities are the reasonable exception.]
My own single-family house right next door is now worth 50 times what I paid for it, back in 1971. Why aren’t I taxed more than I now am…to help much-less-lucky people? Why is our city's tax rate always lowered (never raised) every year? Is that truly moral…or wise?
Since our longtime tenants obviously face so many gentrification-pressures today, why doesn’t our city provide ‘rent scholarships' for worthy city employees, low-paid child- and elderly-care and social workers, and clergy?
Why do only 1/3 of Cambridge residents ever get to enjoy the financial security/wellbeing of homeownership? Why don’t we create a long-term goal of turning the majority of Cambridge residents into homeowners?
City-provided below-market-rate second mortgage would be a sensible (and profitable) goal for this city.
Why instead, are we trying to rush thru super-complicated blanket citywide rezoning…that enrages our uniquely differing neighborhoods? And that hopes to give to only 30 low-income tenants per year an incongruous higher building… with less open space and trees than their neighbors all have!
Sure, there must be subsidized housing…but, if it’s to be more moral, it should look just like its neighbors …and not look higher or more crowded-than they. Years ago, we used to give very visible ‘food stamps' to feed the needy. But now, to avoid any stigmatization, we’ve wisely switched to government-paid vouchers that look exactly like ordinary credit cards.
Isn’t this a fairer and more-effective plan for creating affordable housing in Cambridge?"
Fred Meyer is a real estate appraiser…past president of the Cambridge, Greater Boston & Massachusetts Realtor® Associations
COMMON SENSE: Councillor Dennis Carlone on "Urban Design and Implementation Recommendations for the (Not Ready) Proposed Affordable Housing Overlay"
City Councillor Dennis Carlone's August 13, 2019 letter on the Affordable Housing Overlay and where we stand with with this city-wide up-zoning proposal:
"The proposed Affordable Housing Overlay is the subject of much discussion and debate. Zoning reform cannot be simplified as a hard no or an unconditional yes. The devil is always in the details, and as a trained and experienced architect and urban designer I believe I am well suited to address the concerns of the overlay, to guide an ordinance that realistically promotes affordable housing, and to prevent the city from being sued.
Every City Councillor is committed to addressing the affordable housing crisis. We all agree on the goal but disagree on the current citywide AHO overlay draft. The present petition is deeply flawed and needs more work. It lacks any meaningful design review standards and process, nor ways to measure outcomes. It does not specify the actual increased densities proposed for affordable housing.
Rather than a citywide scope as currently proposed, Cambridge should focus on the most buildable sites (where change is inevitable, and the greater number of units can be built) that more fully meet the needs of affordable housing families. At the same time, we must ensure that new construction enhances, not overwhelms, existing communities. A broader vision is needed. This will require more work and more time as we find the most effective way to move forward.
I proposed several amendments to address neighborhood concerns. As I write this several have already been voted down by a 5-4 margin. The division on the Council is representative of the division in the community. I fear without these amendments we are opening the city up to avoidable lawsuits and poor development.
Zoning is Law. We must remember that any approved zoning becomes our law. And any law must be carefully studied and thoughtfully developed. Because this has not yet happened, preliminary discussions have created a great sense of uncertainty, confusion and anger among our residents. We can – and must - do better.
City Development Policy Background: Since the 1970’s, City policies focused almost exclusively on expanding commercial development in order to increase the tax base and employment opportunities, in part to make up for the loss of industry in the 1950’s and 60’s. As a result, the amount of commercial development in Cambridge continually outpaces new residential production. This planning approach creates a very strong housing demand from new employees with higher incomes who want to live near work and is compounded by unmet housing needs of expanding universities and the general increased interest in city living.
This has led to housing cost (apartment rents and home purchases) increasing 2,000 percent or more over the last 40 years. Many, especially the middle and working class, have been forced out of Cambridge.
A More Realistic, Broader Approach: Given the large amount of public financing and City Council/Staff involvement, any citywide petition resulting in denser construction must diligently balance community concerns with projected development. The expanse of the proposed petition is precedent setting, and no one wins if the matter goes to court. The goal should be to find an approach that works for everyone in a fair, balanced, transparent, and productive way. Residents want the opportunity to be a part of the larger community and to live in homes that fit into their neighborhood.
A Different Kind of Zoning is Needed: We must go beyond specific site zoning as outlined in the Affordable Housing Overlay petition and consider existing neighboring buildings’ context, including siting characteristics (setbacks, height, character, etc.) in order to create desirable development. Each neighborhood block is different, especially in commercial areas. We must evaluate appropriate sites from a neighborhood-impact perspective and develop more appropriate heights and transitions.
We need to zone and build in context. Well-conceived architectural and urban design objectives with a strong design review process are essential to ensure that new development (especially those significantly larger than their neighbors) reinforces and enhances the surrounding neighborhood, village center, or city square character. The current plan as written does not allow for this. Ideally, the best overlay ordinance creates a scenario where each project within it adds to the civic confidence that the ordinance works.
Preferred Site Locations: We should focus on site opportunities where urban change is already inevitable and ensure that they are part of the greater area vision. Whenever there is development demand, change almost always occurs on “Soft Parcels.” These are sites that are underbuilt (where existing zoning allows a larger structure), underutilized (vacant or unprofitable use), and/or one in poor condition (beyond saving).
In Cambridge, parking lots and one-story (especially vacant) structures are the most prime locations for redevelopment. We see this happening right now throughout the city. These are the areas that will almost certainly become luxury apartment if we don’t prioritize affordable housing there.
Furthermore, most people, especially residents without cars, want to live near needed retail, public services, and mass transit. Many want to have the opportunity to be a part of an active community. Affordable housing should be prioritized in such areas.
Overlay Design Consultation Objectives: Design objectives, which determine the design and scope of any development, must be part of the zoning if they are going to have any consistent impact on development. Separate guidelines, especially without a special permit-based design review process, (as proposed by the current petition), are ineffective because they are not enforceable.
Implementation and Oversight: As now proposed, The Cambridge Affordable Housing Trust, the principal Cambridge funding source, seems to be the only design and implementation oversight group currently with any power. They will be required to evaluate neighborhood design concerns, Planning Board design recommendations, and Community Development’s urban design staff comments and then decide whether the proposed building should be funded or not. They must state what design changes will be incorporated in any proposed project seeking their funding assistance. No other group would have any control. This is overly taxing on the Trust and not a good balance of power.
Site and Non-Residential Space Ownership: Instead, the city needs to utilize a trusted non-profit entity with proven experience in the development process and the ability to purchase property and possibly write down the land cost for public purposes. This entity would oversee any non-residential first floor uses, such as desired local retail, pre-kindergarten facilities, neighborhood library, etc. The remanding building rights would be sold to a local affordable housing developer - allowing the residential developer to focus primarily on the development of housing.
In my view, the most likely candidate is the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority, which has a unique economic and development management position in the city with broad purchasing and planning powers. This approach is essential to expanding affordable housing in Cambridge.
Embellishment of Public Domain: The city, not the affordable housing developer, should be responsible for new sidewalks, trees sustainably planted and watered, street patching, streetlights, and utilities below grade to help offset public domain costs and, at the same time, improve street tree growth as well. The city is not currently responsible and this needs to be added to an improved overlay petition.
More Funding: I fervently hope the City Council can eventually pass an Affordable Housing Overlay that promotes affordability, addresses neighborhood concerns and doesn’t open the city up to lawsuits. However, even a successful overlay will go nowhere without funding for affordable housing. I am proud of my work to secure an additional $5 million a year in city funding for affordable housing, but this is clearly not enough. Others on the council and in the city are doing their best to increase funding, and we still need to do better. Although Cambridge is by far the wealthiest city in the state with the greatest financial resources, our residents have the second lowest real estate tax payments in Massachusettsand one of the lowest in the country. As many residents have stated, we can easily afford more for meeting our commitments.
Bottom-Line Recommendation: I have proposed a number of specific improvements to the petition that will be discussed at today’s Ordinance hearing. However, it is clear to me that we are not ready, with too little time available, to fully modify the petition. Let’s truly understand all implications, both positive and negative. Let’s get it right, and take the time we need to work on the intended goals and methods to assure that what we propose is feasible, equitable, transparent, measurable, and unifies us as a great City."
Concerning Business: Susan Labandibar, Board Chair of Cambridge Local First, Foresees Negative AHO Impacts
Susan Labandibar, Board Chair, Cambridge Local First, forwarded the following letter to the Cambridge City Council voicing key concerns with the Affordable Housing Overlay from the vantage of local businesses. We publish it here with her permission.
"As currently written, the AHO is designed to increase development near subway stops and on transit corridors, which is where many Cambridge Local First retail businesses are located. These businesses are already experiencing dislocation due to development pressures.
The AHO does not provide funds for helping local businesses move if the building in which they are located is purchased by an affordable housing developer. Should a business want to return to its original location after development is completed, they may be unable to afford the new rent or may not be offered a new lease, since developers and real estate investors generally prefer to lease to national retail chains.
Local businesses not directly affected by property sales to AHO developers may be negatively affected by construction-related declines in business and rising property values, which are passed on directly to businesses via triple net leases.
For these reasons, Cambridge Local First cannot endorse the Affordable Housing Overlay unless protections for local businesses are included."
As a follow up to her letter, we cite here part of the Cambridge Local First Mission Statement which highlights how important local businesses are not only to the local economy but also to the vibrancy of each neighborhood and the city's livability for the city's various residents: “Today’s small business owners face a daunting array of challenges. Retail businesses are closing across the country. In Cambridge, an unstable and unaffordable commercial rental market compounds the problem. However, a thriving small business sector is vital to Cambridge’s sense of self. Small business ownership has historically been part of the immigration story. Entrepreneurship can be an important tool for individuals and families to grow assets and exit poverty. Entrepreneurs generally have higher incomes than their peers and are more likely to invest in their children’s educations. Customers, in turn, benefit when the businesses they frequent are mindful of their neighbors and invested in the success of local communities. As such, efforts to invest in entrepreneurship are also investments in the next generation and in a community’s future.”
TREES AND THEIR HEALTH IMPACTS
Trees are important to our health. In a July 26, 2019 article titled: MORE TREES MEAN BETTER HEALTH OUTCOMES, ACCORDING TO NEW RESEARCH Tom Jacobs writes that "New Australian research finds that, when a neighborhood's green space leads to better health outcomes, it's the canopy of trees that provides most of the benefits.... In recent years, study after study has found that living in neighborhoods with abundant green space is linked to positive health outcomes. These include better heart health, stronger cognitive development, and greater overall longevity. No wonder these areas are also linked to lower levels of Medicare spending. But when it come to promoting human health, not all green spaces are created equal. That's the conclusion of new Australian research, which finds higher levels of wellness in areas marked by one particular manifestation of the natural world: leafy trees. 'Protection and restoration of urban tree canopy specifically, rather than any urban greening, may be a good option for promotion of community mental health,' write Thomas Astell-Burt and Xiaoqi Feng of the University of Wollongong in New South Wales. Their study, along with a commentary, is published in the journal JAMA Network Open. They describe a large-scale longitudinal study featuring 46,786 mostly older residents of three Australian urban areas.
The subjects were initially interviewed between 2006 and 2009; follow-up reports were taken between 2012 and 2015. At both points, participants were asked to rate their overall health, and noted whether they have ever been diagnosed with, or treated for, anxiety or depression. In addition, they completed a 10-item questionnaire designed to measure their risk of psychological distress. Among other items, they noted how often in recent weeks they had felt 'hopeless, rigid, or fidgety,' 'so sad that nothing could cheer you up,' or 'worthless.' Researchers compared the participants' answers to the natural features of the "mesh block" where their home is located (a geographical unit containing 30 to 60 dwellings). Using satellite imagery, the team calculated both the percentage of total green space and "separate green space types, including tree canopy, grass, or other low-lying vegetation. After taking into account such variables as the participants' age, gender, education, and household income, the researchers were able to confirm the results of previous studies, finding that "total green space appeared to be associated with lower odds of incident psychological distress. More intriguingly, they also found that exposure to low-lying vegetation was not consistently associated with any particular health outcome. Exposure to grass was, surprisingly, associated with higher odds of psychological distress. The wellness-boosting feature, then, appears to be the trees.
The researchers report that living in areas where 30 percent or more of the outdoor space is dominated by tree canopy was associated with 31 percent lower odds of psychological distress, compared to people living in areas with 0 to 9 percent tree canopy. 'Similar results were found for self-related fair to poor general health,' with tree-rich residents reporting better health overall, the researchers write. Astell-Burt and Feng can only speculate on the reasons behind their findings, but they come up with some reasonable guesses. 'Shorn of tree canopy, sidewalk temperatures can be higher, sidewalks can seem noisier, and walkers along them are exposed to more air pollution,' they write. In addition, they point to studies suggesting that 'higher levels of biodiversity, rather than the amount of green space, were associated with more favorable levels of psychological well-being.' Research shows that "tree canopy is more supportive of biodiversity than open grasslands,' they add. In an accompanying commentary, Dutch environmental researcher Sjerp de Vries cautions that these researchers are journeying into 'uncharted territory,' and suggests that a measure of per capita green space might be the best measure of its benefits. Additional research is clearly called for. Nevertheless, these results provide evidence of the benefits of natural shade, and suggest that our love of trees may be biologically driven. A neighborhood's leafiness is worth keeping in mind when you're deciding where to put down roots." READ the article here: https://psmag.com/news/more-trees-leads-to-better-health-outcomes-according-to-new-research
Unless the City Council majority feel that poor people in Cambridge deserve poorer development, health, and longevity than the rest of our citizens, then they must stop voting they way that they have most recently. Thanks to this group's votes, the cutting of mature trees is now permitted for affordable housing developments, while elsewhere in the city it has been banned. According to votes by this same City Council majority at the Ordinance Committee meeting last Thursday, current green space requirements in key parts of the city (places where trees will grow) will be limited in these same AHO developments to 7.5 feet on side yards - not enough space for mature trees to flourish, particularly once you add in bike sheds, dormers, and decks.
THE COOLING IMPACT OF TREES
And it is not just about one's health (rich or poor), this is also about the impacts of global warming and the fact that it is these same West Cambridge, District Nine, and Agassiz neighborhoods that provide much of the tree canopy that will be cut, but also that this part of the city is what cools off the rest of the city. The map below makes this perfectly eminently clear.
And we cannot just plant-a-new-tree every where in the city to get out of this problem in Cambridge. Not only does it take 30 or so years for a new tree to reach maturity but some 25% of newly planted trees die before they reach maturity. Furthermore, because we are so dense (between 3rd and 5th most dense city in the U.S. for populations over 100,000) we have very few spaces left to plant them. Again let's look at a map to see why. The map below shows the available permeable spaces in the city. There is VERY little of this land in many parts of the city outside of West Cambridge, Area 9 and Agassiz. So whether we care about trees because they are important to everyone's health (including the poor) or whether we care about trees because we need to address climate change now, the decisions Council is making regarding trees and green spaces in the AHO is critical to both the present and future of the city.
The AHO proposal to add massive and far taller buildings (such as the one below) everywhere in the city (and especially in the tree-rich areas of West Cambridge, Area 9, and Agassiz) will not only limit nearby residents to potential solar use, but also will limit our future for addressing sound environmental policy.
THE PROBLEMS WITH BIG DEVELOPMENTS EVERYWHERE
Yes we want and need more affordable housing housing here, even though we have far surpassed state mandates on this, but there are far better ways to achieve this by concentrating this housing on parts of our main corridors AND by rezoning to allow residents to add one or two new units within the shell of their current residences. When we see the scale of the structures being built now and even larger ones proposed for future the AHO projects "as-of-right" everywhere in the city, regardless of the destructive health and environmental impacts we see how problematic this city-wide up-zoning proposal is. We need to do this right!
Categories: AHO, Environment