Roy Ribitzky is a Cambridge renter, former special education teacher, and current bartender running to advocate for workers’ rights, affordable housing, quality education, and a Green New Deal. From coping with six figures in student debt to living on tip-based wages, Roy has experienced the harsh toll this pandemic has had on our families, schools, residents, and local businesses. Roy wants to support policy that puts people first and ensures we foster a welcoming, inclusive, and socially just City.
How have your experiences, prior to or outside of seeking elected office, shaped your views on housing and land use in Cambridge?
When I was a child growing up in Georgia my dad lost his job through no fault of his own, and I experienced the trauma parents have trying to keep a home and family together when the next paycheck is unknown. When the 2008 Recession hit right as I was starting college at UMass, my family almost lost our home and for years to fight with the very banks that wrecked our economy for their own greed. I have worked in abusive and toxic workplaces where I wanted to leave but couldn’t afford to quit – how would I pay rent? Applying to new jobs, doing interviews, training – often times those takes months. There are so many people that are forced to work in unsafe workplaces because they cannot afford to go one month without a mediocre paycheck. With the lack of unions and enforcement of worker protection laws, people are often forced to continually work in unsafe and abusive workplaces. I ultimately did leave my job, but I was without an income for three months. I had to eventually move out of my apartment and back with my parents – an option many people don’t have – but an emotionally and psychologically traumatizing time for someone who was 28 years old and had a Master’s Degree. I know I was one of the lucky ones – not everyone has parents that live close with rooms to spare. Living right in between Inman and Kendall Square the last few years I have seen luxury condos and business parks get developed while wages have remained stagnant, yet the standard of living has increased. If the City of Cambridge can so quickly allow for commercial development, surely it can quickly allow for more affordable housing and better land use to create an eco-friendly community.
In your own work, what have you done to advance the goals for the City of Cambridge that you care about?
When we were forced to come back to work at the restaurant, I tried to advocate for better Covid prevention practices, higher wages to make up for lost tips, etc. It didn’t end up working out, but I don’t want to give up. Before I worked in restaurants, I worked at Fletcher Maynard Academy first as a paraprofessional and then as an ETS Teacher in sub-separate classrooms. Inclusion is something I care deeply about (also worked on inclusionary best practices in Boston Public Schools) and often informs my perspective on policy.
What is a stand or action you have taken that has displeased some Cambridge voters?
This being my first campaign ever, and being a write-in candidate, I have yet to get negative feedback on my political views, but there’s still time.
What are models and/or strategies Cambridge should use to create more income-restricted affordable housing?
The fact that we are still dealing with a global pandemic means we need to take bold action to address a housing crisis that has existed for decades. People lost work for over a year, meaning people lost their ability to pay rent for a year. I think we should mandate a rent and mortgage freeze for at least two years to buy renters, landlords, and homeowners the time they need to get back on their feet. We must also create Rent Control measures that take into account the minimum wage, skyrocketing rents, and standard of living.
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?
Generally. Our entire economy has been based on the mythological “invisible hand” that guides all things from shampoo brands to apartment costs. If all we see are luxury condos being built, or rents going up in one area because maybe in ten years there will be another MBTA subway station there, then the market will inevitably bend towards the rich. To say that broad market affordability “only” will solve our housing crisis is a narrow-minded approach. So long as there are little to no regulations on rent and development costs, the market will always benefit landlords and property owners at the expense of tenants.
How can Cambridge better protect tenants against displacement? (Please focus your answer on strategies within municipal authority.)
The City can place a moratorium on all luxury condo development, essentially slowing the rising cost of rent. I also think the City of Cambridge must explore the possibility of creating a Public Bank, where tenants and landlords alike can have access to low interest loans for home development and rent support for Cambridge residents. Most importantly, we can issue a temporary ban on evictions of tenants that have lost income through no fault of their own.
Do you believe we have a climate obligation to pursue greater density and allow more people to live here?
Generally. Unsure to be honest; however, if most climate experts agree on this strategy then I will support what the science says. My uncertainty stems from Cambridge being as populated as it is, I am not sure how an influx of people helps combat climate change. Are there noticeable changes to our emissions when thousands of college students return every fall season? I am not sure. The goal should be to make Cambridge more affordable, allow for greater access to (good) public transportation, and institute a livable wage minimum.
Do you support the affordable housing proposal at 2072 Mass Ave?
Yes. No proposal is perfect, but if we are able to create more affordable housing options, we should do it. Cities across the country will pull all-nighters creating slideshows to convince the Amazons of the world to build warehouses and offices there, why can’t we do all that we can to create better housing options now? If elected, I will seek to make affordable housing the priority over commercial and luxury living development.
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. What worked 100 years ago might not work today. We must ensure that zoning laws and practices rooted in discrimination are replaced with better and more equitable laws and ordinances to make Cambridge more welcoming, inclusive, and affordable.
Do you believe Cambridge should stop requiring new off-street parking for all residential development?
Yes. I’ve seen plenty of apartments and home where parking was built on the first floor and the units above. If we are also to encourage more biking, walking, and public transportation use, we must eliminate the need for off-street parking. This to me is a no-brainer.
Do you believe Neighborhood Conservation District rules need reform?
Generally. Cambridge is hundreds of years old – there is history here and that should be preserved. However, we must ensure that organizations aren’t using outdated policies and zoning laws to discriminate against residents that live and/or want to live here.
Do you support a municipally funded right to counsel for every Cambridge tenant facing eviction?
Yes. Besides labor laws, anecdotally I can tell you tenants rights are constantly being violated. I know a Cambridge renter that was given 30 days to move out of the apartment so the landlord could renovate the place. 30 days? To find a new apartment? In the middle of summer? During a pandemic? That’s not fair. There must be clear and strong City programs that everyone knows about – especially landlords – that tenants can access whenever needed.
How far, if at all, should the City Council go in encouraging transit-oriented development? How should the City Council go about doing it?
I am a bartender. I am often at work until 1am, long after the last bus or train has left. One of my favorite places ever – The Abbey on Mass Ave – is open until 2am; meaning, the employees there do not leave until 3 or 4 in the morning. If we allow businesses to operate until 2 in the morning, we must advocate for those workers and work with the MBTA to develop late night public transportation options.
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?
From what I have seen and read the City Council has often meant well and did many studies that show dire situation our City and planet is in, but it seems like progress is slow. There are many stakeholders when it comes to urban planning and sustainability, and even people that agree on more efficient buildings might disagree on how to accomplish the same goal. I agree overall with the mission the Council has adopted to address Climate Change, but it just seems to move too slow. With the U.N.’s latest climate report, we must act fast.
What can the next City Manager do to promote your housing priorities?
The next City Manager can come with a collaborative approach to working with City Council on addressing our housing needs. The City Council is an elected body and the City Manager should support and implement the housing initiatives that are passed by popular vote.
What should the city do to increase walking, biking, and transit usage in Cambridge?
We should have more weekends where squares and other business-filled streets are pedestrian only (such as what Newbury Street in Boston does over the summer). We should study and plan our roads to have as many bike-only lanes as possible to protect bikers, drivers, and pedestrians. We should also work with the MBTA to figure out where we need more or less bus stops to ensure every resident lives within walking distance of public transportation.
Do you have anything else you'd like to highlight or add regarding housing or land use in Cambridge?
There is no one magical housing policy that will make Cambridge affordable overnight. And while I am a renter, I have never feared eviction. What I do know is that for decades housing has been a major priority in this City, yet we still have yet to solve it. I will look at any policy from a perspective of “people-first” and also work to ensure we allow for every person to sleep with a roof over their head – from our current generation to the next. Any new development must keep the environment in mind, and we must build to make this City run on 100% renewable and clean energy as quickly as possible.
Aside from housing and land use issues, what are some major priorities you hope to push for on the City Council?
As a restaurant worker, my main priority is to eliminate the subminimum wage. Tip based wages are rooted in Jim Crow laws. I know of many restaurants that received government relief money during the pandemic to pay off shareholders and expand their businesses while they continued to exploit their workers. There have been numerous unreported cases of Covid at many cafes and restaurants as employees are continually forced to work in unsafe conditions. Being an advocate for restaurant workers has been my main motivation to run for City Council.