I am a 5th generation Cantabrigian, father and social worker, who has been serving our community for 16 years. I have seen firsthand the inequities in our city. From housing, to education, to income insecurity, to social justice, disparities exist in our community, which have only been made worse by the pandemic. I'm running for re-election to eliminate those disparities and make Cambridge the socially and economically just city we truly want it to be.
How have your experiences, prior to or outside of seeking elected office, shaped your views on housing and land use in Cambridge?
As a social worker, I have worked with many who have struggled to maintain housing. Without stable housing it is almost impossible to deal with other issues, such as mental health, food insecurity, medical conditions, and job opportunities. I have worked within the bureaucratic system and have seen that even those systems that are well meaning, make it extremely difficult for people to access housing. Although I have had stable housing myself, I believe it is my responsibility to use that privilege to secure housing for others. Housing is a human right and essential to a person's stability.
In your own work, what have you done to advance the goals for the City of Cambridge that you care about?
I led the effort to more than triple incentive zoning payments from commercial developers, resulting in millions of dollars to the Housing Trust. I led the effort to increase our inclusionary zoning percentage from 11.5% to 20%. I led the effort to pass the AHO, which has already resulted in close to 400 units of affordable housing. I also brought free breakfast to every public-school student, started an immigrant legal defense fund, and expanded service for our unhoused residents. In addition, I have supported our environmental goals and bike lane infrastructure.
What is a stand or action you have taken that has displeased some Cambridge voters?
As the face of the AHO on the Council, I upset many in Cambridge, including many of my supporters. In the last election I was specifically called out by those who opposed the AHO and targeted in many of their emails and flyers. My leadership on bike infrastructure also put me at odds with many of my supporters who have lived in Cambridge for generations, who have concerns about parking. In the end, I have always taken stands based on what I felt was right and not what was politically expedient.
What are models and/or strategies Cambridge should use to create more income-restricted affordable housing?
The AHO was a great start but not the end. I would like to amend the AHO to allow for up to 12 stories on main corridors. I would like to legalize multi-family housing in every neighborhood. I would like the city to build on surface parking lots, purchase more land and limit rent increases.
Do you agree that only broad market affordability will maintain Cambridge as a community for everyone and Cambridge should lead the region to increase local and regional housing supply?
Yes. We have an affordable housing crisis in Cambridge, but it isn't just a low-income crisis. Middle income residents, including teachers, tech workers, police officers etc. cannot afford to live in Cambridge. We must address all of it, and we do that by increasing housing for various income levels. Density is also better for the environment, particularly transit oriented development.
How can Cambridge better protect tenants against displacement? (Please focus your answer on strategies within municipal authority.)
As Mayor, I formed the Tenant Displacement Task Force to address the displacement we were seeing in our community. I supported the increase funding for more legal counsel to tenants, I filed an amendment to require landlords to inform tenants (in writing) of their rights when they move into an apartment and not just when facing eviction. We need to continue to build the City's Housing Liaison division to provide more education and support. We will certainly need permission from the State to do other things but there is much we can do locally.
Do you believe we have a climate obligation to pursue greater density and allow more people to live here?
Yes. Vehicle emissions are a major factor in damaging our environment. By increasing housing density so more people can live near where they work, we reduce the need for cars and thus vehicle emissions. It is really not that difficult a concept to understand, yet so many who are concerned about climate change also oppose density. I'm not one of them.
Do you support the affordable housing proposal at 2072 Mass Ave?
Yes. I have been very outspoken in support of this project, including testifying at BZA hearings, writing an op-ed in the paper and organizing residents. This project checks all the boxes. 100% affordable, family sized units. Passive House construction. Green roof. Transit oriented. It should serve as a model. What is frustrating is that it is being stopped by an unelected board that is not representative of the community. We need to address the lack of representation on our board and commissions, we need to amend the AHO to allow for greater height on main corridors as of right.
Do you support changing neighborhood zoning, including dimensional standards, to allow small-scale multi-family housing like triple-deckers, four-plexes, and six-plexes?
Yes. The majority of our housing couldn't be built today. It is unconscionable that there are neighborhoods were multi-family housing cannot be built. It is zoning that is rooted in racism and classism. Cambridge is losing middle income families. Families who want a home but can't afford one in Cambridge. By allowing smaller homes to be built, that will be less expensive because of their size, we open new opportunities for people to stay in Cambridge. More housing is what we need.
Do you believe Cambridge should stop requiring new off-street parking for all residential development?
Yes. Parking is not only expensive, taking funds away from the creation of units, it also takes up space, often on small lots, and encourages people to own cars, adding to our climate crisis. We need to start transitioning to a new way of thinking about transportation. Cambridge is well served by public transit and we are continuing to expand our bike infrastructure. Although these may not be options for everyone, they are options for many and we need to not only change infrastructure but our way of thinking.
Do you believe Neighborhood Conservation District rules need reform?
Yes. The issue with the most recent NCD petitions is that they were filed not so much to preserve historical buildings, but to stop new development. I support protecting history buildings, but we also must make new development possible.
Do you support a municipally funded right to counsel for every Cambridge tenant facing eviction?
Yes. I supported this policy order that increased legal funding for tenants. I also added an amendment to the order that now requires landlords to provide their tenants (at lease signing) of their rights and resources, so that tenants are better educated prior to any eviction or issue arises.
How far, if at all, should the City Council go in encouraging transit-oriented development? How should the City Council go about doing it?
Cambridge needs to recognize how incredibly well served it is by public transit - as a whole, better than many neighborhoods of Boston and other communities around the region. If you draw 1/2 mile circles around every transit station and high frequency bus line/stop it incorporates a huge proportion of the city. We must as a community recognize that in this era of accelerated climate change, building homes near existing infrastructure like transit is the most sustainable method of growth and that building any new housing in most Cambridge neighborhoods is transit-oriented development. That said, building as close as possible to subway stations and bus lines is the most ideal and our zoning should reflect that. The City Council needs to significantly upzone the areas immediately adjacent to all Red Line stations and encourage more housing. The lack of any significant concentration of housing in the heart of Harvard Square is a lost opportunity. We should not have single story, commercial only, suburban-style strip malls like Porter Square around any transit, and specifically Cambridge and Somerville need to work together to encourage the mall owners to bring more homes into that space directly on to of Porter Square T.
How would you evaluate the City Council's approach to sustainability over the last few years--what is one aspect you agree with and one aspect you disagree with?
Everything we do, in our private lives, our professional lives and our personal lives, is about priorities. When everything works out and housing can be built without cutting down a tree, reducing parking or causing traffic, we can all celebrate. Unfortunately, that is not always possible and difficult decisions must be made. In the end, we need to do whatever we can to reduce negative impacts of development, but not at the expense of homes.
The issue of trees/tree preservation - Yes, trees are important particularly in urban areas and we must do whatever we can to encourage developers to save trees when possible but we cannot continue to create the false conflict between trees and homes. The reality is that the failure to build sustainable, transit-oriented development in Cambridge just pushes the development of new housing into further flung suburban areas where trees, open space, and even farmland are destroyed to meet the regional/state demand for new housing.
As stated previously, building more densely, particularly close to transit, and building out our bike infrastructure are other ways to reduce the need for car ownership. Eliminating parking minimums and moving forward with the Bike Safety Ordinance are issues I support and will help with sustainability.
What can the next City Manager do to promote your housing priorities?
- Address the lack of representation on our boards and commissions.
- Continue to add additional funding to the Affordable Housing Trust.
- Purchase more property so we have control over what is built.
- Finally produce the report I asked for 6 years ago about building on city owned parking lots in Central Square.
- Set a specific goal for housing development that can guide us.
- Create and enhance programs that promote home ownership opportunities.
- Work with the Council to end exclusionary zoning and allow multi-family homes to be built in every neighborhood.
- Work with the Council to create zoning that will allow and encourage smaller, more affordable homes to be built, so that middle income residents can afford to stay in Cambridge and raise their families.
- Offer "gap vouchers" to help those with housing vouchers afford to rent in Cambridge.
- Build more housing!
What should the city do to increase walking, biking, and transit usage in Cambridge?
- Continue to build out our bike safety infrastructure to fully realize our Vision Zero goals.
- Eliminate parking minimums.
- Implement parking maximums for large projects.
- Work with the MBTA to make buses free.
- Build more densely near public transit.
- Continue to implement bus priority lanes to make public transit faster and more reliable.
- Require market-rate developers to provide bike parking, and Charlie Cards (for a minimum of a year) to tenants.
- Improve the quality of our sidewalks.
- In the past we have talked about a free, "Cambridge Shuttle" service that can act as an internal public transportation system. We should explore this further.
Do you have anything else you'd like to highlight or add regarding housing or land use in Cambridge?
Every person who is running for Cambridge City Council will say that they care about affordable housing. The question is, "Do they care about it enough?" I want to eliminate the phrase, "I support affordable housing, BUT..." from our conversation. Anything you say after the "but" you are placing above affordable housing. We have to start living the values we say we have. I have not only stated my support for housing, but I have voted for it. I have led on this issue. I have put myself out there politically to ensure that pro-housing, pro-affordable housing policies get implemented. In a field where everyone talks about housing, I have delivered and I will continue to do so if re-elected.
Aside from housing and land use issues, what are some major priorities you hope to push for on the City Council?
When most people think about Cambridge they don't think that we have a higher poverty rate then the state average, or that we have over 500 homeless people on our streets every night, or that half of our public school students reside in public housing. The truth is, there are many in our city who are not realizing the prosperity that surrounds us. That is why I work on issues like homelessness, income insecurity, substance use disorder, housing, universal pre-school and mental health. We have to to more if we truly want to be the socially and economically just community we say we are.