Cambridge residents are being polled by an anonymous group for views on current city councillors, issues facing the city, and their positions on the Affordable Housing Overlay (AHO) coming up for a vote. Who is paying for this poll? And, equally importantly, what questions is it asking? And why?
Poll is coming from a telephone number in Marshfield , Ma.
Here are the questions
*as best transcribed and recalled live at the time.
I. What are your views on current city councillors?
Answer possibilities: favorable unfavorable, unsure, don’t know.
*Note this poll includes Jan Devereux who is not running for reelection - which is strange.
II What issue concerns you the most currently in the city?
* Note that the term "affordable housing" means many different things. We all support more affordable housing,
but to some this means rent control, to others it means renter protections, to still others it means building more
market rate housing, to still others it means adding more inclusionary housing. None of this is spelled out here.
**note too, that there is nothing in this poll on climate change or the environment, infrastructure or planning. Why?
III What do you think about the work that has been done to improve the city squares?
*Note: there is nothing here on Harvard Square, Porter Square, Kendall, or even recent city-approved
development projects in East Cambridge, Alewife and elsewhere.
IV What is your view of City Council
*Note: there is nothing in here asking our views of the "City" (the City Manager - who is coming up for
reappointment next term.
**Note too: there is nothing in this poll about approval of the city's Community Development Department that is
behind the deeply flawed Affordable Housing Overlay proposal,
V Are you aware or the Affordable Housing Overlay
*Note: good question, but will the poll-takers actually share the results with the public?
VI The Affordable Housing Overlay will enable the city to build 100% affordable housing throughout the city by changing some of the restrictions currently in place (rough transcription).
Do you support it?
Do you oppose?
*Note: the AHO is very complex, why do they not ask separately if we oppose or support individual elements of the
proposal, like four stories everywhere, seven stories on the corridors, "as of right" (taking away current citizen legal appeal, or the change in design standards and review oversight.
IX Education level
In the end key questions remain about who commissioned this poll (an expensive endeavor): is it one of the current city councillors who supports the AHO? Is it a political PAC supporting the AHO (A Better Cambridge most notably)? Was it the City of Cambridge? Who ever it was, they did NOT provide any information of who has paid for this political message/poll? Why did they leave out critical other issues and concerns in the city?
DON'T SET A BAD PRECEDENT! Stop Developers from Increasing CambridgeSide Building Heights by 82% by Marlene Lundberg and Rafi Mohammed
Sign the Petition HERE:www.cambridgepetition.com/
New England Development (NED) is petitioning the City of Cambridge to rezone the CambridgeSide Mall area to allow high-rise buildings that are 82% higher than current zoning regulations. Retail space will be scaled back, some housing will be added (market & affordable) ‐ but the vast majority of total square footage will be devoted to lucrative office and lab space which rent for roughly over 500% higher than the current retail space.
NED’s key argument for rezoning the CambridgeSide area is to “save the Mall” due to the impact ecommerce has had on brick & mortar retailers.
By staying within its current zoning ‐ maintaining the two core floors of Mall as retail and converting the rest of the square footage (plus garage) to offices/labs ‐ the gross upside in value is as high as $1.2 billion. If the 82% increase in building height is approved, the gross upside in value of the Mall area skyrockets to as high as $2 billion+. Note: these figures do not include costs; NED has been asked to provide its cost estimates and it has declined.
Even if you don’t live in this immediate area, the final decision on the Mall redevelopment zoning will set a precedent that will likely affect you and your neighborhood in the future.
ContactCo-chairs Marlene Lundberg and Rafi Mohammed are both residents of the Canal Park neighborhood. Our goal is to bring neighbors and the greater Cambridge community together to protect the architectural and urban planning harmony of one of the loveliest spots in the city, Canal Park. We are also concerned about the costs to Cambridge residents of worsening-by-the-week rush hour traffic at Land Boulevard and Route 28, as well as the need to build additional infrastructure to support increasing development.
In the coming weeks, we hope to engage our Cambridge residents in conversations about NOT setting a building height upzoning precedent that can harm all neighborhoods in the city.
Please use this form to reach out with questions, comments, requests, ideas, or concerns.
On Nimbyism, Yimbyism, and Planning…
We are into history here: Let us look back and consider some important examples of good and bad planning, good and bad development, good and bad Nimbyism, good and bad Yimbyism.
Over a period fifty to sixty years ago, city and state planners came up with plans that became a severe threat to the fabric of the city. State officials wanted to build the Inner Belt Expressway through Cambridge. Cambridge Redevelopment wanted to do urban renewal in East Cambridge, Cambridgeport and Riverside. The total number of housing units to be demolished in Cambridgeport alone by the combined effects of highway and urban renewal was 4,400 units, about 2/3 of all the housing in Cambridgeport. The highway route was along Brookline Street, an alignment invented by the Cambridge Planning Director, who spent a dozen years trying to sell it to state officials before state engineers finally adopted it in 1962. Behind all of these programs was the Federal Government, in the form of the Bureau of Public Roads and Housing officials in the Commerce Department.
All three levels of American government -- local, state and Federal -- were doing the wrong thing. Fortunately, a Cambridge City Councillor, Pearl Wise -- endorsed by the pro-urban-renewal citizens group, Cambridge Civic Association -- changed her vote and voted no. Urban renewal in residential areas basically went down the tubes in this city and never came back. People just said no. In December 1964, the Civic Association, recognizing the sins of its past, came out with a new position opposing any route for the Inner Belt through Cambridge. No Inner Belt in Cambridge, they said, in a direct rebuke to the City's Planning Director.
Cambridgeport citizens organized against the Inner Belt in 1965 and stood up to say No. They formed a group called Save Our Cities, with partial funding from the Archidiocese of Boston. The goal was not to put the road in somebody else's back yard. It was no road at all. In Roxbury, citizens formed a group called Operation Stop. That says it all.
Anti-highway protests spread to neighborhoods: Jamaica Plain, Alewife, Tip O'Neill's neighborhood of North Cambridge, Milton, Lynn, and many others who felt that highway building in the City was often simply wrong. Unknown to many of them is that President Eisenhower in 1959 sat down with his public works advisor, Major General John Stewart Bragdon, and both agreed that building Interstate highways in cities was wrong.
By 1971, the highway controversy had grown so heated that Governor Francis Sargent announced that he was cancelling the Inner Belt. In his speech about past highway policies, he admitted "We were wrong." The naysayers were right. The mighty highway lobby was stopped dead in its tracks, and Massachusetts went on to build two major transit projects -- the Red Line to Alewife and a relocated Orange Line. The Big Dig project was completed at great cost, without taking a single house.
The final victory for Cambridge is that MIT agreed to serve as the developer for Elderly Housing on Erie Street in Cambridgeport. The Lyndon Johnson Apartments were built with Federal housing funds, right smack where the Inner Belt was supposed to go along Brookline Street. This new housing structure gave us needed elderly housing. It also blocked the Inner Belt. This building still delivers a message: No Highway.
Near Beech Street in North Cambridge, the St. James Church is a wonderful architectural gem, of great historical and aesthetic value. An adjacent parcel that used to be the Long Funeral Home became a famous example of disastrous development. No one in their right mind would defend it. Bad Yimbyism.
Just across Mass Avenue is a large office building, sheathed in glass, with a Le-Corbusier-inspired parking lot underneath the structure. Civilians walking along the street get to see a deep black hole filled with the murky forms of parked automobiles. Another architectural disaster.
As an example of a new building that serves humane needs, I offer the new City Library, very popular with the public and created by an architect who is decidedly non-Brutalist.
The role of architects in creating unfortunate new buildings should be assessed when we consider increasing building densities in established neighborhoods. In general, architects have failed to inspire public confidence. They spend too much time giving each other awards. Zoning is one of the few limits on their egos and excesses. Because the proposed AHO zoning petition seeks a loosening of zoning (an up-zoning), it represents an undermining of zoning protections. If anyone supporting the still-flawed Overlay petition is an architect or in the real estate business, they should declare those interests openly, because greed is an important motivator. And shame on them if they allow greed to take control of their moral judgment.
Suppose greed does win out, and the Council approves the up-zoning. What recourse do citizens have? A court appeal, of course. It is their right, by the Constitution. Anyone unfamiliar with Article 7 of the Declaration of the state Constitution should read up on that too. It says government should serve the common good, and not the profit of special interests. The words were written by Founding Father John Adams, a favorite on many conservative thinkers. Nothing wrong with that -- since conservation of our city should be foremost in our thoughts.
Stephen H. Kaiser, PhD Citizen Engineer & Historian
To read the fuller version of this issue see Stephen Kaiser's report on Cambridge citizen opposition to the Inner belt where the image at the top of the blog is found: www.cambridgema.gov/~/media/Files/historicalcommission/pdf/innerbelt_kaiser.pdf?la=en
This afternoon CCC was forwarded a letter in support of the Affordable Housing Overlay (AHO) by an advocate that was forwarded to local list serves and to City Council. We want to share with you our opposition to what is being stated in this letter about the overlay and opposition to the overlay proposal itself.
The text of the original letter is in black; CCC’s responses are in red
Dear Friends and Family,
For the last 15 years I have worked on affordable housing issues…. The Greater Boston region is one of the priciest housing markets in the country and I believe that we have room to grow in Cambridge that will make our city more economically and racially diverse.
We need much more affordable housing in Greater Boston—The region is not building the units necessary to support population growth particularly for people earning low to moderate incomes including young people, teachers, firefighters, small business owners and others.
+The city of Cambridge, is well ahead of state mandates for affordable housing construction. Our neighboring cities in Greater Boston are way behind us on this. Yes we need affordable housing, but the AHO is NOT the way to go. It is a deeply flawed proposal, and a highly risky one. Nowhere else in the country has this been tried.
The proposal make sense for Cambridge because:
We have good access to public transportation--T, commuter rail and frequent bus service meaning fewer people will rely on cars.
+Many parts of Cambridge that the AHO covers do NOT have good access to public transportation, and this transportation at its best is inadequate much of the time. Many people living in affordable housing need to work to pay a portion of the rent, and often these jobs are at night, or in places not accessible by public transportation.
Many neighborhoods have little affordable housing--it tends to be concentrated in places that were redlined by the federal government in the post WWII--a policy that created many of the segregated. neighborhoods we see in our city today.
+Unfortunately these areas of the city also frequently are the most expensive properties in the city and have the largest green spaces and number of mature trees. Purchasing properties in these areas is less financially viable for affordable housing than less properties which have less value. Moreover we have lost some 22% of our tree canopy in the last 10 years. The AHO will allow the removal of mature trees here and elsewhere in the city. Not only must we preserve our trees, but we also need to find other places in the city to plant even more trees. The sizable setback cutbacks in the AHO make mature tree growth (even for new trees) very difficult.
The AHO can help to provide housing to middle income residents. Since the end of rent control, the middle class has been squeezed out of Cambridge by high housing costs. The AHO defines affordable as 100% of area median income which is $113,300 for a family of 4.
+The AHO will bring very little relieve for middle income residents. The majority of the AHO units will be for those making 30-40% of AMI, and in some cases those who meet Section 8 housing requirements. Furthermore, we now have 19,000 people on our affordable housing list, so to put out the false promise that this will help things is unfair. The Cambridge Community Development department itself has said that the AHO is likely to bring between zero and 40 to 60 units a year – hardly enough to help the many middle income earners in need of less expensive housing in the city.
The AHO doesn’t throw out the public process rather it allows 100% affordable projects to go through the normal permitting process rather than the variance process. The planning board reviews projects and allows for public comment. The AHO doesn’t allow for endless litigation which can make it difficult for developers to afford to build 100% affordable housing projects.
+Opponents to the AHO have never stated that the AHO “throws out” the public process, instead we have correctly pointed out that the current Oversight role of the Planning Board will be diminished to an advisory role only. Currently developers have a real interest in working with neighborhoods to get the best design possible because the Planning Board often will support design choices of local residents and because if the developer and the neighbors do not agree, there is always the treat of legal action. The AHO removes current citizen legal rights of appeal, leaving the final decisions on design, and other things to the developer and the unelected city manager.
The AHO will not transform Cambridge. It is really difficult to put financing together for 100% affordable housing projects. Developers need a combination of public and private funds through the low-income housing tax credit, rental voucher programs and other vehicles to make the project work financially. And because developers cannot charge rents that would make tenants or homeowners cost burdened (paying more than 30% of their income in housing) they have to get the financing to allow them to offer below-market rates while still being able to afford to build the project.
+True, however the city has been extraordinarily successful in adding affordable housing through the current inclusionary plan without the need to up-zone the whole city, allow the demolishment of trees, and remove current citizen rights of appeal. Cambridge has met and beat significantly state affordable housing mandates through this means, and are way ahead of neighboring cities on this.
I share people’s concerns that the projects could be ‘ugly’ but I find that is true with any development. There are plenty of market rate developments near Huron and Concord that I find ugly---the project going up on the corner of Concord and Walden is one example. But there are others that fit in with the streetscape like the one behind the store fronts on Concord Avenue near Huron. The AHO proposal has design guidelines that follow the idea of form-based code put forward by the New Urbanists—an organization that focuses on making cities livable and walkable.
+The “ugly” buildings that have gone up already, at least have met current design review requirements, and neighborhood insight. Alas, the AHO proposal does NOT meet New Urbanist form-based code guidelines. Not only will this housing NOT be built exclusively along the main city corridors and squares near transit hubs, as recommend in the Final Report of the city’s recent Envision Process, but form-based codes are created after considerable consultation with the neighborhood members where it will be built. None of this has happened in Cambridge with the AHO – and nor will it likely be done.
And finally increasing density (by allowing up to 4 stories in most residential parts of the city) will contribute to reducing climate change. By allowing more people to live closer to public transportation, we’ll need fewer cars. Now many owners and renters are forced out of Cambridge, often into the far suburbs, contributing to clogged traffic on our region’s highways and all of the pollution associated with gridlock and driving.
+Allowing up to 4 stories (45 feet and 50 feet if there is an active ground floor, or 7 stories along the main corridors) will NEGATIVELY impact the environment – adding further to climate change. NO on site parking is being required, meaning that all these residents will need to find parking on the street. Some of these developments will be very large (44 units or more) and many of these residents will need cars if they need them to get to work, or if they have physical mobility problems or for other reasons. The removal of mature trees and green spaces will further the negative environmental impacts. Cambridge is already top five most dense cities in the U.S. with populations over 100,000. And we are a very historic city, with the potential to have many of our rich historical architectural heritage lost to massive big box housing, “ugly” or otherwise.
I urge you to support the Affordable Housing Overlay for Cambridge.
We urge you NOT to support the Affordable Housing Overlay for Cambridge.
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