Theodora Skeadas

I am a renter, environmentalist, organizer, and small business advocate. I've spent my lifetime advocating for worker empowerment, sustainable business practices, and more equitable access to opportunity for all members of our community. As the daughter of small business owners, I understand the importance a strong local economy and civic community has in uplifting the community. I'm running for Cambridge City Council to fight for housing justice, climate solutions, local businesses, and to hold the City accountable for the progressive leadership Cambridge deserves.

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

I have always rented my apartment in Cambridge. I came to Cambridge in 2008 for college and lived in rented undergraduate dormitories. Over a ten year period, during college and in the years afterward, I moved approximately once a year. This experience of mobility emphasized the importance of advocating for security for renters through tenant organizing and tenant unions. This experience will help me better advocate for renters if I am elected to City Council. For the past five years, I have been living in a rented apartment at 988 Memorial Drive, Apt. 185, Cambridge MA 02138. My landlords, a married couple, live in Salem and have essentially offered to stabilize our rents for as long as we continue to live here. We really appreciate it!

I have spent the last few years engaging with local business owners and workers. As Executive Director of Cambridge Local First, I have advocated for small businesses working with the public and the government. I have advocated for sustainable business practices and more equitable access to opportunity for all members of our community, including BIPOC and immigrants, LGBTQ+ members, and women.

More information on these experiences is included in the answer to question three, below.

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

I care deeply about supporting local and independent businesses in Cambridge. I am the Executive Director of Cambridge Local First, a non-profit of 500 locally- and independently-owned businesses that promotes a local economy community by educating the public and government about the significant environmental, economic, and cultural benefits of a strong local economy. In this role, I have worked to empower lower-wage workers and the labor movement, fight for opportunities for small business owners against big business and big financial interests, advocate and educate on strengthening antitrust laws, and fight for greater racial equity. As more context on my work on worker ownership and antitrust advocacy:

I strongly believe in developing support systems for creating new cooperatives and employee-owned companies, which expand opportunities for building local wealth. I am already doing this work, by promoting the creation and expansion of worker cooperatives in Cambridge, and nationally, through education efforts.

For example, on December, 3, 2020, I organized a national conversation, “Keep local businesses thriving with employee ownership,” alongside Project Equity and the American Independent Business Alliance. Hundreds attended, and you can watch the video on Cambridge Community Television.

And, on April 1, 2021, we organized a Boston-area conversation on ESOPs and worker cooperatives, alongside the Sustainable Business Network of MA and The ICA Group’s Massachusetts Center for Employee Ownership.

I firmly believe in expanding opportunity to small, minority, and immigrant entrepreneurs. We have supported policies that eliminate obstacles to access for these groups.

For example, since the summer of 2020, we have partnered with Andree Entezari, a local activist, to advocate for Residential Kitchen Retail Sale permits. These would allow people to prepare safe foods (such as baked goods, confectioneries, and jams and jellies) in their home kitchen for direct sale to the public. Residential kitchen permits are beneficial because they allow food entrepreneurs to make supplemental income, support the local food movement and provide additional vendorship opportunities at farmers markets which promotes food security. You can read more about that activism in the Cambridge Day.

As of March 31, the ordinance has passed in Boston City Council! As Boston City Councilor Julia Mejia says, "This ordinance is not for large corporations to set up shop. It's for small, minority, and immigrant entrepreneurs who want to share their food and their culture with their community."

I work closely with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and independent business alliances around the country to both educate the public and advocate on the importance of strengthening antitrust laws. Antitrust laws connect directly to labor empowerment, as they lead to better conditions for workers by reducing labor “monopsony” effects.

For example, on February 22, 2021, we organized a national conversation, “Reigning in Monopoly Power: Small Businesses and the Push to Strengthen Antitrust Laws,” alongside Congressman David Cicilline, who is Chairman of the Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law. The context for the event is below, and you can watch the video on Cambridge Community Television.

The pandemic exposed, and turbocharged, many inequalities in our economy, including years of rampant market power abuse by dominant corporations at the expense of small businesses. Now, for the first time in decades, passing new anti-monopoly laws is shaping up to be a key priority for federal policymakers in 2021. Last October, the House Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law, led by Congressman David Cicilline, published the findings of an extensive investigation of market concentration. The report concludes that dominant firms like Amazon are abusing their market power and calls for new legislation to update and strengthen the antitrust laws. Small businesses have a critical role to play in shaping this agenda and ensuring that anti-monopoly policies are a central part of Congress’s economic recovery strategy.

In recognizing the role that local financial institutions play in a thriving local economy, I have organized an annual Move Your Money campaign, to educate the public on these issues.

For decades, we have entrusted too much of our money to a handful of really big banks that hold power over our communities without giving back, regularly practicing unethical and biased lending practices and catering disproportionately to big, not small, businesses. Our month-long Move Your Money campaign aims at amplifying the benefits of banking locally for residents, businesses and students. The campaign highlights the technical advantages and opportunities offered at these small banks, their positive effects on the community and their better customer service. The campaign also shows residents how to open accounts or transfer their money to local banks.

I have worked with 100 volunteers, and managed three 15-person internships organized in partnership with the American Independent Business Alliance, American Sustainable Business Council, and Sustainable Business Network of MA.

In addition to empowering workers, fighting against big business, and advocating on strengthening antitrust laws, I have also fought for greater racial equity through my work at Cambridge Local First and the YWCA Cambridge. As context:

In June 2020, I partnered with the Sustainable Business Network of MA to co-found the Cambridge-Somerville Black Business Network (CSBBN). CSBBN brings together Black entrepreneurs and identifies specific programs that can be developed or adopted to help ensure these businesses survive the pandemic and thrive moving forward. This new initiative convenes and works with Black-owned businesses based in Cambridge and Somerville that are in at least one of these phases: (1) Start-Up; (2) Expansion; and (3) Recovery from the COVID-19 Pandemic. Membership is free to all Black-owned businesses in Cambridge and Somerville. We recognize this work as a form of reparations for marginalized people, especially Black and Indigenous business owners and workers.

CSBBN advocates for BIPOC-owned businesses and aggregates data from businesses, organizations, and municipalities to best advocate for local business needs and utilize our developed Black Business Directory. This robust data collection will serve to inform the public and policymakers about how to best help Black businesses thrive.

We also offer a mentoring program, networking opportunities, opportunities for continuous learning, and technical assistance to these businesses.

In recognizing the role that access to local financial institutions plays in fostering business success, we organized a free workshop, "Building Banking Relationships that Stick,” geared toward BIPOC-owned businesses. You can watch a video of that conversation on Cambridge Community Television.

To educate the public on the importance of Black-owned businesses in the community, on November 10, 2020, we partnered with the YWCA Cambridge to organize a Cambridge town hall on Black-owned businesses. You can watch a video of that conversation on Cambridge Community Television.

We built a Diversity Directory for the City of Cambridge to amplify businesses and entities owned by women or minorities, including people of color, LGBTQ+ owners, veterans, persons with disabilities.

We also modified our organization’s logo to be more racially inclusive (look to the logo at the top left to see the animation).

As Board Chair to the Cambridge YWCA, I have worked to eliminate racism, empower women, and promote peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all by helping to direct the allocation of resources towards YWCA’s various programs for providing safe, affordable accommodations for women and families and advocate for human rights. The YWCA is the city’s largest residential housing provider for women, with 103 units of single room occupancy (SRO) housing for single women at Tanner Residence and a 10-bed shelter for homeless families.

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

One controversial issue I’ve recently engaged on is the ongoing discussion around bicycle lanes and parking spots.

As a cyclist myself, I am proud to take the Cambridge Bicycle Safety pledge to make Cambridge roads a safer place for bikers. I support rapid implementation of the citywide network of protected bicycle lanes as mandated by the Cycling Safety Ordinance. I pledge to do everything in my power to ensure the successful implementation of the ordinance, including voting in the City Council, advocating in the public realm, and connecting stakeholders to ensure a positive outcome for all in our community. I believe that Mass Ave is the most important street in Cambridge and needs protected bike lanes as soon as possible.

At the same time, as the Executive Director of Cambridge Local First, I am committed to uplifting our local and independent businesses.

To bridge dialogue, I have been facilitating conversations across stakeholder groups, including with Joe Barr (the City of Cambridge’s Director of Traffic, Parking, and Transportation for the City of Cambridge), Ruth Ryals (President of the Porter Square Neighbors Association), leaders from Cambridge Bike Safety, and Councillor Jivan Sobrinho-Wheeler. You can view a recent such conversation on Cambridge Community Television. These have been difficult conversations, but I am committed to creating a shared solution.

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

Cambridge, like so many other areas around the country, is facing a housing crisis. We are increasingly losing the middle class in Cambridge. I believe there are many different contributing factors to this crisis including, but not limited to, gentrification, rising rents and a narrowing pathway to homeownership. Our challenges are threefold: unrealistic and restrictive requirements prevent those experiencing homelessness from gaining services and housing; tenants face rising prices, housing instability, and a lack of protections; and paths to homeownership reside behind a barrier of privilege and generational wealth. Consequently, the lack of affordable, accessible, and equitable housing is devastating for those experiencing homelessness, renters, and homeowners, and alike.

At the center of the housing crisis in Cambridge are a few wealthy, multinational corporations that are buying up large swaths of land. The commercialization of Cambridge land contributes to displacement, increased rent, and limits regular people’s ability to buy homes. Additional challenges include an inadequate supply of permanently affordable housing to meet growing regional demands, and zoning laws that prevent increased density in transit corridors.

Here are some models and strategies Cambridge should use to create more income-restricted affordable housing:

  1. The use of Boston’s Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) Rule for zoning, which will ensure new housing while taking into consideration the effects on local communities that have historically been discriminated against.
  2. Support the adoption of a real estate transfer tax up to 6% on new sales of real estate above the city-wide median sale price of $1.1 million and direct proceeds to the Cambridge-only Affordable Housing Trust.
  3. Advocate for a vacancy tax on individuals and corporations who buy housing without the intent to occupy those units to discourage commercial speculation- adding additional fees for owners who fail to register their properties as vacant, and for properties that are left vacant for multiple years.
  4. Push for community land trusts and publicly-funded social housing focused on permanent affordability, social equality, and democratic resident control.

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 Cambridge should strive to be a leader in tackling the affordable housing crisis. One method to achieve this is to increase our affordable housing stock near transit systems and the Mass Ave corridor.

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

The majority of Cambridge residents, including myself, are renters. For too long power in Cambridge has been skewed in favor of wealthy developers and private interests. This has contributed to rising rental costs and a lack of protections for tenants. We need immediate action to lower the rent and prevent mass evictions while planning for long-term housing stability.

For municipal solutions: 1. Push for community land trusts and publicly-funded social housing focused on permanent affordability, social equality, and democratic resident control. 2. Establish a Tenant Bill of Rights including a tenant’s right to counsel. 3. Push the city to establish a Department of Housing Stability to help residents navigate existing city resources and find and maintain stable, safe, and affordable housing.

For statewide solutions:

  1. Develop and advocate for policies at the city and state levels that prevent displacement and set goals for the amount and mix of market and non-market housing.
  2. Fight for rent control by working with advocates in Cambridge, neighboring cities and across the state to lift the ban.

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

Yes. I believe that climate, housing and transportation policies are extremely intersectional, so we cannot work on each of these in a vacuum. I believe that greater density does have a meaningful impact in lowering our carbon footprint, and therefore is a climate solution.

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

Yes. I support both the Affordable Housing Overlay and the affordable housing proposal at 2072 Mass Ave.

As a City Councillor I would prioritize projects that are focused around transit corridors. Also I will engage all relevant stakeholders, including residents, city departments, tenant organizations, and trade unions, to prepare a long-term, equitable plan for affordable housing projects.

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. Yes, I believe it is time for Cambridge to update its zoning laws. In the process of updating zoning, we must center equity and include provisions to push back against the displacement of Black and Brown residents. I also plan on focusing on reforming zoning standards to make it easier for homeowners to make small property modifications and better accommodate the needs of multigenerational households.

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

Yes. Yes I believe we should decouple parking from residential development.

Do you believe Neighborhood Conservation District rules need reform?

Yes. I would push to examine the existing rules and proceed with reforms that better advance equity by advocating for reforms in the management of these organizations to ensure that advisory boards feature a diverse range of people and perspectives.

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

Yes. Yes, it is important to protect tenants. The majority of Cambridge residents, including myself, are renters. For too long power in Cambridge has been skewed in favor of wealthy developers and private interests. This has contributed to rising rental costs and a lack of protections for tenants. We need immediate action to lower the rent and prevent mass evictions while planning for long-term housing stability. As a City Councillor, I will push to Establish a Tenant Bill of Rights including a tenant’s right to counsel.

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 think it is important to focus on transit-oriented development to increase the amount of affordable housing stock. Additionally, we should be advancing our transportation systems to be more accessible to persons with disabilities, workers, and students with policies such as fare-free transit and paratransit, increased services and accelerating updates to the 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?

I absolutely support getting Cambridge to net zero carbon emissions. However, I believe the City could be doing a better job in pursuing systemic change to divulge from fossil fuels instead of more incremental measures.

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

For our democracy to truly work, everyone needs to have their voice heard in shaping policies and laws that will impact their communities. If people like you and I do not have our voices heard, then policies end up being crafted by corporate interests who have access to vast sums of money and our politicians. The laws that have been passed over the last 40 years show how the weakening of our democratic institutions has led to policies stacked against working people and the empowerment of dangerous demagogues like Trump.

I believe that a lack of transparency and accountability leads to policy outcomes that do not reflect what the majority of Cambridge residents want.

The City Council’s failure to hold the City Manager accountable over a 40 year span has increasingly disempowered our Council and weakened our approach to housing development. We must break that cycle with the hiring of the next City Manager. Further, I will work to make our city transparent, maximally democratic, and structured to implement the will of the people by:

  1. Rejecting the City’s current austere approach of endless commercial development, artificially low taxes, and an underutilized emergency fund.
  2. Reviewing the charter to ensure that elected officials and the public have meaningful oversight of City Manager appointments and the budget process.
  3. Evaluating an elected mayoral role.

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

As a Councillor, you can count on me to fight for greater equity in our public transit system including fare free paratransit as well as efforts to make current public transportation systems more accessible to disabled community members. I plan to work with the City of Cambridge to implement separated bike lanes in order to create a safe, city-wide protected network that serves residents of all ages and abilities. This includes permanent protected bike lanes when streets are reconstructed and lanes using temporary materials outside of the reconstruction plan. As for walking, I pledge to take a proactive approach to pedestrian safety and listen to residents’ concerns so safety improvement measures are implemented before tragedy strikes. I will work to expand sidewalks and maintain crosswalks, implement traffic calming measures and ensure that all streets have pedestrian friendly traffic signal timing so that all people can feel safe traveling the streets of Cambridge. I believe that usage will increase through expanded access to and safety of walking, biking, and transit.

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

No, thank you for this thorough form.

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

I also hope to work on issues of local economy, environmental and climate action, racial and criminal justice, and transportation equity.