Joe McGuirk

Joe McGuirk has spent the last 30 years tending bar in and around Cambridge, the city of his birth. A well known community member, Joe had always been happy that most of his patrons never knew his politics, until the last few years. But the many challenges facing lower income people and working people has motivated Joe to get involved. He is the son of a truck driver and a waitress and father to two grown children. He rents an apartment with his wife and cat on Columbia Street in Wellington-Harrington.

How have your experiences, prior to or outside of seeking elected office, shaped your views on housing and land use in Cambridge?

The struggle to find an affordable place to live dogged me most of my entire adult life. I have been forced to move many times to remain close to the better paying jobs in my field, while remaining near my children, as rents have increased. Until my children were grown and I no longer paid child support, my housing situation caused me immense stress. I often worked two jobs just to see myself fall behind financially. I know firsthand the struggles of families who must make the difficult choices of how to allocate our limited incomes. Seeing prosperity come to some but not all in Cambridge over the last 20 years has only caused more stress for people like me who do not earn as much as many of our neighbors but are just as essential to the city. It is disheartening to see the many ways we have placed obstacles in front of the efforts to build more housing by folks who are already secure in their homes when you are a person who, despite the lifetime spent here, is in danger of being displaced.

In your own work, what have you done to advance the goals for the City of Cambridge that you care about?

I have spent most of my life trying to keep a roof over my head and the heads of my family members. This struggle took up much of my time and energy. And I relied on my elected officials to do the right thing for lower income people. Now that my children are grown and I have the opportunity to look beyond the necessities of day to day life, I see that people in situations like mine need more advocacy.. One of the reasons I am running is that I know how hard it is for people of my income level to have the bandwidth to get involved, as we struggle to earn enough to remain in the city. I believe that the council should have a voice from those folks. My 30 years of tending bar locally has helped me to get to know my community in a very personal way. I know residents from all over the city, and from all walks of life. I let my career of treating all with the dignity and respect we each deserve be the standard of how we should all treat each other, and how I intend to serve as a council member.

What is a stand or action you have taken that has displeased some Cambridge voters?

One of the reasons Cambridge is such a wonderful place is that we share common core values. Our struggles are often about implementation of them. Most Cantabridgians agree that we have a housing crisis and must fix it. But we disagree on how. This has led to a lot of spirited and sometimes disrespectful debate. A recent example is the question of our green canopy. We are all now aware that human caused climate change will have massive consequences for our planet. I made the argument that our energy cannot be spent saving a few trees locally if it meant displacing populations that would then require building somewhere else, and likely destroying even more trees. This was met with some criticism (I was even labeled a shill for real estate, which is hilarious). I am happy to have conversations with folks I disagree with. I think a hallmark of liberal democracy is that spirited debate. I will always listen to others’ opinions, but I am unafraid of standing by what I think is right and just.

What are models and/or strategies Cambridge should use to create more income-restricted affordable housing?

Cambridge has done a commendable job creating income-restricted affordable housing, especially as compared to other cities in the Commonwealth. Yet, the City must create thousands more units of income-restricted housing to meet the needs of its residents. Doing so is at the top of my priority list if elected City Councilor. There are two main ways to create more income-restricted housing: build new income-restricted units or purchase existing housing stock and add an income restriction. I believe the City should aggressively pursue both of these paths.

To create new affordable housing, the City should make additional funding available for developers, especially non-profit developers, for affordable housing. In addition to CPA funding, I would pursue a real estate transfer tax similar to the one passed by the Boston City Council which taxes residential and commercial properties assessed over a certain value. Adding to the pot of funds available for affordable housing developers to access will make more projects financially feasible. Additionally, I believe the City should create a robust acquisition loan fund for developers of affordable housing. This would allow developers to move quickly to purchase property and significantly decrease the carrying costs for affordable housing developers by offering below market interest rates, which is a major financial burden for affordable housing developers.

To purchase existing housing stock, the City of Cambridge should create a program similar to the City of Boston’s Acquisition Opportunity program which provides loans to help responsible investor-owners buy occupied, multi-family rental properties. In exchange for funding, the property owners must keep the tenancies of existing residents, keep affordable rent levels for the units for a long period of time (i.e. 50 years), and income restrict all of the units.

By pursuing these two paths, Cambridge has the opportunity to invest in the thousands of additional income-restricted units that it desperately needs.

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. Yes, I agree. In addition to the strategies mentioned above which increase income-restricted housing, I believe that increasing the local and regional supply of all housing, both market and non-market rate, is essential to creating broad market affordability in Cambridge and throughout Metro Boston.

Increasing the local supply of housing is key to ensuring broad market affordability. Research has shown that the creation of multifamily buildings reduces rents both regionally and locally, and I would firmly support additional developments similar to Mass+Main in Central Square and Cambridge Crossing. Our City should celebrate that while the population has increased by ~15% since 2000, the number of housing units has kept pace, increasing by 16% over the same time span. However, the regional failure of our neighbors (e.g. Brookline with a 3.71% population increase and a -1.61% change in housing units; Belmont: 7.93%, 2.57%; Newton: 5.6%, 1.3%; Wellesley: 8%, 0.73%) increases the demand on housing in Cambridge.

But the statistics above provide no comfort to our neighbors who are struggling to pay rent and stay housed in our City. While I would push the City to aggressively pursue increasing the local housing supply, and support Commonwealth-wide legislation to increase regional housing supply, our City needs to take significant steps to ensure broad market affordability today to maintain Cambridge as a community for everyone. To reach that goal, as City Councilor I would push to create a universal housing voucher program in Cambridge. All renters not already receiving government support for their housing who are earning less than 60% of the AMI (conservatively 12,400 households, or 40% of all renter households) would receive support every month from the City to help pay their rent to their landlord. These renters would pay 30% of their income on rent every month, and the City would pay the difference between the renter’s share and the fair market rent for their apartment based on the apartment size and location (by zip code). This program, the first of its kind in Massachusetts, would truly ensure broad market affordability for all in our City.


How can Cambridge better protect tenants against displacement? (Please focus your answer on strategies within municipal authority.)

I believe that the universal housing voucher noted above would have a significant impact on protecting tenants against displacement. This strategy could be created within municipal authority, and I estimate that this program would cost ~$25 million annually, which is less than an eighth of the City’s certified free cash and less than 5% of the City’s annual budget. This is clearly a good investment given the relatively low-cost of a program that would guarantee affordable housing for all low-income residents in our City.

In addition to the universal housing voucher, I would push to create an Office of Tenant’s Rights. This office would:

Manage the funding for legal support for tenants fighting displacement and eviction

Create and manage a landlord licensing program

Perform regular audit checks to ensure that landlords are abiding by fair housing law

Serve as an oversight body for landlords, collecting tenant complaints and issuing annual landlord report cards similar to the grading system used in restaurants.

Do you believe we have a climate obligation to pursue greater density and allow more people to live here?

Yes. Yes, greater density is one of the key ways that our City can contribute to reducing carbon emissions. I got rid of my car in 2002 largely because our City was so job rich and transit oriented. New developments are opportunities to create resilient and equitable housing solutions. (Full disclosure: my wife of nearly 3 years has brought a car into my life).

Additionally, we must end parking spot requirements, since they prevent both potential green spaces and increasing housing density. Denser housing leads to more efficient energy consumption, which is necessary as we face a changing climate due to human activity. To counter the inevitable opposition, I am working towards educating people about the unprecedented challenges facing our city (and society) due to climate change. Cambridge is known as a bastion of progressive ideals. I am challenging my fellow residents to live up to those ideals. We cannot ignore how enormous and immediate our need for reducing the human impact on the climate is, creating more neighbors living in newly constructed/renovated and energy efficient structures is absolutely our obligation.

Do you support the affordable housing proposal at 2072 Mass Ave?

Yes. I fully support the affordable housing proposal at 2072 Mass Ave. To ensure that proposals like this are more likely to succeed, first I believe that the heights in zoning districts along Massachusetts Avenue should be increased, as areas like 2072 Mass Ave are prime areas for significant density such as what is proposed at 2072 Mass Ave.

Second, I believe that members of the Zoning Board of Appeals should be paid. The role of the ZBA is unbelievably important, and changing the structure from a volunteer to a paid position would acknowledge this importance. The ZBA should be able to review projects more regularly and more quickly, which would avoid the months-long delays that can be created by a mistake on the height of an adjacent building. A ZBA that works quicker and meets more often I believe would make projects like 2072 Mass Ave more likely to succeed.

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. I fully support allowing as-of-right multifamily housing on every residential lot in Cambridge. I believe that at least four-plexes should be allowed by right. There is a clear correlation, shown by the in-depth analysis done by political scientists at BU, that communities that allow by-right multifamily housing have a higher share of multifamily housing permitted than communities that do not. Reducing the barriers to creating this kind of housing will have a significant impact on the total number of new units created in Cambridge in the long run, and particularly missing middle housing that our City desperately needs.

Do you believe Cambridge should stop requiring new off-street parking for all residential development?

Yes. We should end parking minimum requirements, especially as we strive to eliminate our reliance on fossil fuels. I support abolishing parking requirements, since they prevent both potential green spaces and increased housing density. In fact, I believe we should penalize the building of parking spaces by requiring a fee to create new off-street parking. I also believe that the annual fee for parking permits should be increased, as many of our neighboring Cities and Towns have done. However, there should be exemptions for our residents of limited means. Too often in our city, the benefits and services reward the well-heeled and leave those of us lower income people and renters out. The means testing we use for the fleet of Blue Bikes could be applied to our parking permits as well.

Do you believe Neighborhood Conservation District rules need reform?

Yes. The NCD rules are highly undemocratic and require reform. I believe that the petition put forward by resident Loren Crowe should be adopted. What makes our City special is not our skyline, but our people. The NCD rules as they stand uplift our skyline and harm our neighbors and future neighbors.

Do you support a municipally funded right to counsel for every Cambridge tenant facing eviction?

Yes. Yes. As I stated above, I would push to create an Office of Tenant’s Rights. This office would:

Manage the funding for legal support for tenants fighting displacement and eviction

Create and manage a landlord licensing program

Perform regular audit checks to ensure that landlords are abiding by fair housing law

Serve as an oversight body for landlords, collecting tenant complaints and issuing annual landlord report cards similar to the grading system used in restaurants.

How far, if at all, should the City Council go in encouraging transit-oriented development? How should the City Council go about doing it?

The City should adopt a zoning overlay that allows dense multifamily housing within a quarter mile of MBTA subway stops in Cambridge. Additionally, I would love to see our City Council making a push for smart, locally sourced, self-sustaining infrastructure that helps increase green transportation, while also feeding the economy of Cambridge. We have some of the best technological firms in the country right here in our midst. I would love to see initiatives that encourage modern, climate-equitable, and modern transit technology development that can be designed, engineered, and implanted in-town. This could be achieved through subsidies and/or bid contracts, and would be a great way to produce modern, good-paying jobs, encouraging our best and brightest to stay here in Cambridge.

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?

I see that I had not answered this, but now I am up against the hard deadline. My one comment will be brief. I was dismayed by the green roofs ordinance, not because I am against green roofs, but that we cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good. The argument between solar v green roof delays a solution to the current situation, and time is not on our side as we countenance climate change. I hope to champion pragmatic, actionable and inclusive solutions to the challenges our city faces.

What can the next City Manager do to promote your housing priorities?

A major task of the next council will be the hiring of our next city manager. I think that part of that process should be to hire someone who shares the same sense of urgency on addressing our city’s need for housing, and is willing to loosen the city's purse strings to take action.

What should the city do to increase walking, biking, and transit usage in Cambridge?

The city needs to address the “last mile” problem of transportation, making sure that our citizens can access more environmentally sound methods of transportation and still make it to their destinations in a timely (and economically fair) manner. This may be in the form of updating Zoning laws to eliminate the parking requirements for new construction, reducing the number of parking spots (so as to make utilize space for more public transit spots, bike lanes, and pedestrian-only zones), and/or assessing the fares of the MBTA and providing subsidies on a sliding scale for those that qualify. I believe that Cambridge should push for e-bikes to be included in the BlueBikes fleet.

Also, in general, I support the Cycling Safety Ordinance of 2019, and will work to ensure its timely implementation. However, I believe we must acknowledge the concerns of stakeholders who feel threatened by the rigid timeline.

Do you have anything else you'd like to highlight or add regarding housing or land use in Cambridge?

One of the reasons I am proud to be from this City is the progressive values often ascribed to it. But if we do not increase housing density, I believe we are not living up to those proudly claimed values. Cambridge should be a leader in addressing the housing crisis in our region, not a city whose actions or inaction exacerbate it.

Aside from housing and land use issues, what are some major priorities you hope to push for on the City Council?

Small business health and sustainability – both in times of Covid and beyond

Climate Justice – improving our environment and making it sustainable for the future, but not at the expense of our most vulnerable populations

Digital Equity, through municipal broadband access

Policing – assessing funding to the department and potentially reallocating some funding to social necessities such as mental health resources, addiction/substance abuse support, citizen assignment at construction sites to oversee traffic flow. However, I believe it is important to talk with our neighbors who are directly impacted by the recent rise of gun violence in our city, and find solutions that make the most sense. We must take a pragmatic approach to the challenges facing our community.