Top left: Walden Square II, top right: Jefferson Park; bottom left: Frost Terrace; bottom center: Finch (Concord Ave.), Bottom right; New Street.
*A version of this text also appeared August 19, 2021 in CCC’s Cambridge Day AHO report Op Ed. Please read and donate to this important local newspaper and others. Below we also address initial response to this Report.
Authors of the August 13, 2021 Cambridge Day and Cambridge Chronicle opinion pieces on the AHO (Affordable Housing Overlay) address perceived successes over the last year, but omit key details, such as where the 350 units are located, initiation dates, or related impacts. The AHO ordinance itself requires no annual review, leaving this up to others. While the Cambridge Citizens Coalition (CCC) along with many residents opposed the AHO’s passage, once ordained, we were eager to see and potentially support its outcomes.
Below is our overview of the AHO successes and questions in this initial period.
Finding AHO-specific examples that meet stated goals is harder to do, but it is not hard to guess what sites are being referenced by the authors:
Jefferson Park (underway): Plans call for demolishing all eleven buildings, a six-story residence, and a group of three-to-four story “low rise” buildings, then rebuilding here to rehouse these tenants while adding some 114-120 units to bring the site to 289 units from the current c.175 units. Many of the mature trees that gave Jefferson Park its name will be lost. Had 40B permitting been used, fewer trees would go.
New Street (construction stage): This 107-unit project was well underway when the City Council voted not to support more store units at this site with a scattering of affordable units as sweetener (summer 2019 - before the AHO was ordained). Eventually the owner transformed the use to affordable units. While not an AHO goal-based project per se, New Street represents a positive outcome.
Walden Square: (planning stage). This proposed 103-unit project expands Winn Properties’ existing Walden Square affordable housing development onto their parking lot and simply adds more density to an existing affordable housing development, so non-profit developers are not competing here with market rate investors, and it further segregates affordable housing residents and ,leaves them with few amenities.
Other current affordable housing projects are also important to this overview:
2072 Mass Ave (planning stage). Plans for this proposed 49-unit development have not been finalized, but this project (Capstone Properties, employed NOT the AHO, but instead long available Massachusetts Chapter 40B comprehensive permitting was employed. Had AHO guidelines been used, some neighborhood opposition might be dissipated.
Rindge Tower (in process): The expansion of Rindge Tower, like Jefferson Park, was planned pre-AHO and is proceeding outside the scope of AHO and the developers are adding greater height and density on an existing affordable housing site, to be managed by private entities and segregating affordable housing tenants from other city residents.
Frost Terrace (completed - 40 homes) created by for profit Capstone Properties and the Finch Cambridge development on Concord Ave. (98 homes - Homeowners Rehab Inc) are also in play, but neither was built under the AHO.
None of the above examples represents viable AHO “success stories,” created through the AHO or achieved as the AHO intended, in providing non-profit developers a means to compete with market rate investors to purchase sites citywide in wealthier neighborhoods.
None-the-less, we can learn much about the AHO results to date vis-à-vis current and potential impacts.
CCC’s key concerns about the AHO still remain: 1) the lack of independent project design review (the AHO removed Planning Board oversight); 2) existing tools that could be and still are used, notably Mass. state 40B to consolidate affordable housing project development; 3) the lack of viable neighborhood input on design; 4) the allowance of non-porous surfaces such as porches and roof decks to count as “open space”; 5) the frequent removal of green spaces (and mature trees) in AHO developments, raising issues of environmental equity; 6) issues of resident parking for those needing cars to get to work; 7) lack of transparency and potential conflict of interest in the selection and funding of AHO developers; 8) those units funded in part by state and federal resources must include non-Cambridge resident applicants (roughly 30 percent of units go to these non-residents) making it harder for local residents to find housing, and 9) the lack of built-in regular accountability (annual reporting) of AHO projects. For the most part, these concerns were on target. Note: the Cambridge Chronicle photograph shows 881 Mass Ave. which has market rate apartments.
Response to the Cambridge Day AHO Op Ed. to date