Be part of the effort to promote sensible development, and learn about efforts underway to up-zone the city and further increase density.
The Affordable Housing Overlay (AHO) represents a radical and untried approach to zoning that removes power from the citizen Planning Board and shifts it to the developers and unelected city manager.The proposed Overlay removes key checks and balances that have benefitted Cambridge even in the current era of very rapid growth.
How is Cambridge different from other Ma. cities? Not only are we older and far more dense (#3 t0 5 in the U.S. for cities over 100,000). Yet only about 7% of our homes are single family residences, whereas many towns elsewhere in the state not only are close to 100% single family but also require 1/10th to 1 acre size properties. Cambridge is much different.
The City has yet to answer key questions on the proposed Overlay for us such as:
What are the tax implications? In how many cases and at what addresses over the last 10 years have neighbors stopped affordable housing projects through legal actions (the rationale behind making this proposal "as-of-right"?
Why change design criteria from FAR to Form-Based for these projects? With the latter, citizens are unlikely to see just how large these projects are?
Form-based design is found in fewer than 2% of communities nationally (largely in recent development communities in Florida and California). It takes years to get the neighborhoods to agree to specific design criteria. When prior to the vote will the city address each of the city's 13 neighborhoods for their design choices.
Why is the city removing the city Planning Board from its long-standing decision-making role in being the final arbiters of project design, diminishing them to simply an advisory function?
Why has the city chosen NOT to look at any other of the many proposals for adding more affordable housing and instead using only developer-driven proposals?
Were for-profit or non-profit developers allowed to write the affordable housing overlay language?
Why should developers be allowed to profit from our affordable housing problems when the rush to build more and more luxury housing here has been a key part of . the problem?
The Affordable Housing Overlay (AHO) now under consideration will likely be voted on by Cambridge City Council in September 2019. A majority of the articles favorable to this up-zoning and increased-density proposal are being sponsored by both the city's Community Development Department (hired by the unelected city manager) and a powerful developer-allied political PAC called ABC (A Better Cambridge) who list several current councillors among their members. ABC is linked to a national up-zoning movement, called YIMBY (Yes in My Back Yard) funded by large developers nationwide, but particularly centered on the West Coast in High Tech areas.
Those who have opposed the AHO include a majority of the Cambridge neighborhood groups as well as many activists who seek a solution that will be more equitable, less destructive, and with more accountability. The rush for a vote on the Affordable Housing Overlay is timed specifically to be part of the Fall election of city councillors and is part of an intimidation campaign against councillors who have identified this Overlay as poorly thought through and indeed risky. Everyone wants more affordable housing in the city but residents and politicians alike need to have an affordable housing policy that is smart and that does what we need and want it to do. This is too important a decision to be politicized.
Current residents (including property owners) are not to blame for city's housing problems - or even the complexities of the city zoning regulations (contrary to recent ABC critique). If our residential zoning needs to be tweaked let us do this first rather than using a sledge hammer to overturn the city's entire residential zoning code.
Currently in every zoning district in Cambridge there are a number of multi-unit dwellings. Residential units in Cambridge are expected to grow nearly 30% over the next few years and we have been able to add this new housing effectively with the current zoning system. Despite all this new housing in our city some 10% of our residential units remain vacant so simply adding new housing has not decreased housing costs - indeed this may have exacerbated problems since much of the new housing comprises luxury units that have forced longstanding local residents out of their homes.
To stop the Overlay from passing, 4 out of 9 votes are needed when it comes before City Council this fall.
Please contact each of the city councillors.
You will find phone numbers and email addresses on the "Contacts" page of this website.
Who We Are Cambridge Citizens Coalition was founded by local neighborhood group leaders and is led by them along with other local civic activists and residents dedicated to smart development, thoughtful city planning, good governance policies, sustainability, housing affordability, and the preservation of our trees, green spaces, and historic architecture.
Contact us at CCCoalition1 at gmail dot com. or by mail at P.O. Box 410291, Cambridge, MA 02141.
Land Acknowledgement: We acknowledge and honor that Cambridge sits on the traditional homelands of the Massachusett people. We also acknowledge their close neighbors and relatives, the Nipmuc and Wampanoag peoples.