I’ve been effective, collaborative and courageous in my first term. I’ve kept my promise to be a data-focused, thoughtful leader. I’m strong on a range of issues including addressing the climate crisis, ensuring good governance and fostering neighborhoods and inclusion. My background in public service, private sector and non-profits are excellent preparation for the role. I hope to continue this work if re-elected.
How have your experiences, prior to or outside of seeking elected office, shaped your views on housing and land use in Cambridge?
As an adult - meaning since I was on my own, which started after college I’ve lived in cities (Cambridge, New York, Chicago, New Haven, Amsterdam), EAch experience shaped my sense of how cities can and should be organized. Through relatives and friends who lived in subsidized housing and work in public sector (Brooklyn NY DA’s office) I’ve had some exposure to a range of living conditions. Land use is critical and the main lesson is that our economic system does not do what Europe in general does much more effectively: use public power well to develop the cities we want.
In your own work, what have you done to advance the goals for the City of Cambridge that you care about?
As a School Committee member I pushed for attention to the low expectations and unbelievable lack of accountability and progress in closing gaps. I successfully made data-driven decision making and strategic planning and SMART goals be part of the school district governance. As a City Councillor I’ve been able to make significant progress on better governance (working on charter reform), municipal broadband (to finally getting an RFP written, albeit flawed), climate crisis (many actions), pushing for affordable home ownership, not just rentals, sustainability.
What is a stand or action you have taken that has displeased some Cambridge voters?
I have taken stands that displeased some Cambridge voters many times. The most public one was dealing with the policy order seeking to have Cambridge weigh in on Israel/Palestine issue and be the first city to endorse the Boycott Divest Sanction movement . The policy order was unfair, biased, disingenous, and wrong. I led an effort to reject it - and came up with a substitute that passed. The people who wanted Cambridge to pass the original (there were hundreds who testified) singled me out afterwards as someone who should be cancelled. I would do the same in a heartbeat.
What are models and/or strategies Cambridge should use to create more income-restricted affordable housing?
Use city owned land to build new housing. Along main corridors - Mass. Ave. and Cambridge Street notably - provide incentives for building 4 -5 story buildings with retail on ground floor and residential above. A majority of the city’s affordable housing funds should be directed to home ownership in the form of limited equity co-ops. Monitor and report on inclusionary zoning units and refine the criteria to ensure the units are being lived in by people with income levels that are what the city expects and desires.
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. I believe we already lead the region. The last decade we added over 6,000 units of housing - and yet the housing crisis continues unabated. We must do our part and ensure the appropriate resources are going towards housing, including allowing density next to transit and along transit corridors, but the challenge remains a regional one that Cambridge alone is unable to solve. Our challenge is increasingly that the middle income - which in our area are those making $80-120K a year - cannot find an affordable place to live. Which means those making the median income (teachers are in this category) don’t find a place. Our housing challenges are in some ways specific to Cambridge and in some ways very similar to those faced by urban areas across the country where the economy is doing well and jobs are being added. The region should be putting a lot more emphasis on having employers locate where people are living and wanting jobs - not pouring into Kendall Square to further exacerbate rents. Gateway cities should be the next host for biotech and tech companies. Our local and regional housing challenge is across the board - but more acute for middle income and low income residents. The challenges are regional and we cannot solve the affordability crisis on our own. Cambridge is home to major companies and universities who do not provide appropriate housing for their students and employees, so the burden falls on the city to do so. Cambridge is pouring a huge amount of resources into affordable housing, ($50 million this year) and the number of units in Cambridge is increasing every year, but without a regional approach, we will not be able to meet the demand for housing (and affordable housing).
How can Cambridge better protect tenants against displacement? (Please focus your answer on strategies within municipal authority.)
The pressure for displacement comes from the increased number of labs being built here - while cities like HOlyoke and Springfield are dying to have more industry and jobs - and housing is more available and more affordable. Locally we should promote the idea that if you are not building housing for your workers, then you shouldn’t build in Cambridge. The Tenant TAsk Force report has a number of strategies worth implementing - many of which are already in process.
Do you believe we have a climate obligation to pursue greater density and allow more people to live here?
Generally Not. As with so much that requires critical thinking - the answer is: not necessarily. It depends on what density and how many more people. The data cited - the research - California Local Government Climate Policy Tool - lists urban infill as either of NO use or one of the least effective ways that many cities of Cambridge’s density of about 20,000 people/sq mile can reduce GHG emissions. Maywood, LYnwood, Hunting Park, Hawthorne CA are all cities included in the database with densities of about Cambridge and for which other strategies are listed as far more effective. Which means the research needs to be used in a more thoughtful way that ties to the specifics of the situation. Cambridge should build more - but if that tool cited is accurate, then more density will not be the best way for us to reduce our GHG emissions. I do believe we have a moral imperative to address the climate crisis. Increasing instead of decreasing tree canopy is an easy one to do - in our control - and has environmental justice benefits as well. Requiring electrification and renewable energy in every project including all affordable housing projects is an imperative. Making public transit free and eliminating parking minimums would all do a lot.
Do you support the affordable housing proposal at 2072 Mass Ave?
Generally Not. As currently planned - I generally do not support it. I believe that the project is very expensive, and can be built profitably in line with the AHO (which was always presented as the maximum to be built). That the next door neighbors living in affordable housing have expressed concerns and been dismissed as cranks is disheartening.
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. AS the lead author of a policy order to explore eliminating single and two family only zones citywide, I am obviously in favor of changing zoning to allow small scale multi-family housing. And some dimensional standards could and should be changed - any changes to be proposed need to be examined closely. It would be wrong to support standards that are not specified - I can support the concept, but am not unilaterally endorsing any specific changes.
Do you believe Cambridge should stop requiring new off-street parking for all residential development?
Yes. We need to transition to a city where owning cars is not a given.
Do you believe Neighborhood Conservation District rules need reform?
Generally Not. I support historical preservation. And the idea that the NCD application for East Cambridge was mainly to increase home prices is ridiculous and disingenuous and unfair. That kind of smear should be beneath ABC.
Do you support a municipally funded right to counsel for every Cambridge tenant facing eviction?
Yes. right to counsel is important for all. I also note that we should ensure the right to counsel for homeowners/landlords who are low or moderate income.
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 should follow Somerville’s lead and focus on corridor incentives for development. The city Council really needs to work with the MBTA and DOT and have more frequent bus runs - and add a commuter rail stop at Alewife. And the city needs to work to have bus lanes in more places to speed the transit of buses.
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?
Cambridge has done a great job of declaring and planning and studying and reporting and proclaiming how critically important sustainability is. And on the largest more important goal - reducing GHG emissions, we have been completely ineffective. I evaluate our approach as a failure. Cambridge declared a climate emergency over a decade ago and keep getting awards for being green. Yet our GHG emissions citywide are HIGHER than in 1990 (a common base year). Despite more than twenty years of climate efforts with multiple worthy initiatives, citywide greenhouse gas emissions are unchanged since 2003, while Massachusetts and Harvard reduced overall GHG emissions by 20-30% even as both grew. The areas that have been effective is stormwater mitigation - our long term plans were clear, bold, and implemented. Grade: A. Another area of success is renewable energy on city owned buildings. Grade: B. I disagree strongly with how the community electrical aggregation was handled - it should have been opt OUT to 100% renewable AND a FAR higher % RPS for the standard offer.
What can the next City Manager do to promote your housing priorities?
Build on city owned lots. Start working on home ownership instead of mostly AH rentals. Be serious about using city funds for home ownership as reparations for descendants of formerly enslaved people
What should the city do to increase walking, biking, and transit usage in Cambridge?
More bus lanes, free transit, network of protected bike lanes (in the bike plan), free bike plans, more frequent bus service.
Do you have anything else you'd like to highlight or add regarding housing or land use in Cambridge?
We need to consider having a program for city employees who are middle income to buy limited equity co-ops. We need more permeable land and more green. We also need to attract small manufacturers instead of continually attract labs and jobs that are not available to all residents - we need more jobs that do not require advanced degrees. We need to ensure that the city owns more land to build another school - in Alewife. And have the DPW obtain adequate space for operations.
Aside from housing and land use issues, what are some major priorities you hope to push for on the City Council?
Addressing the Climate Crisis, which is the central issue of this time. If the proposed charter revisions on the ballot this November pass (which I hope they do) then next year we can convene a charter review commission and look comprehensively into our governance. I believe we should consider some changes - including an elected mayor instead of a city manager, and some ward and at-large city councillors. Finally having a sound feasibility study for municipal broadband.