I have lived in Cambridge for over 30 years as a small business owner, environmentalist and community activist. I am running for City Council to ensure that Cambridge becomes a sustainable, inclusive and equitable community. With over 30 years of leadership, community organizing, and job-creating experience, I am committed to fighting for my community’s values and advocate for a Cambridge that prioritizes the needs of the people before the needs of developers.
How have your experiences, prior to or outside of seeking elected office, shaped your views on housing and land use in Cambridge?
After rent control was abolished in Cambridge as a tenant, I was facing a 50% increase in my rent, which I could not afford. After doing the math, I realized that it would be more affordable to own my unit. I organized my building, hired a lawyer to represent all of us, and approached the owner who agreed to sell us our units. I took home-buying classes and shared resources with my fellow neighbors and we were able to purchase our units at a very reasonable price. I had the best chance to own where I lived and I want the same chance for all Cambridge residents. Nobody should be displaced due to a lack of affordable housing. Our city should develop policies focused on not just creating housing but retaining housing and improving housing stability for low and middle-income constituents, including the unhoused. Under existing municipal powers I will fight to build new forms of social housing such as limited-equity co-ops and land trusts and publicly financed social housing on underutilized city-owned lots, and on top of municipal properties, such as certain libraries and municipal buildings.
In your own work, what have you done to advance the goals for the City of Cambridge that you care about?
As a community activist, I currently serve on the board of directors of five Cambridge non-profit organizations including: Sustainable Business Network of Massachusetts, Community Art Center, Vice President of Harvard Square Neighborhood Association, President of Cambridge Carnival International, and Affirmative Action and Outreach Officer of Cambridge Democratic City Committee. I have extensive experience providing mentorship and guidance to small, local, women and minority-owned businesses. I am the facilitator of the Cambridge-Somerville Black Business Network, an initiative that brings together Black entrepreneurs to aid them in advancing their careers. The network aims to ensure that minority-led businesses survive not only the pandemic but thrives moving forward. I am also an active Advisory Board member for Government Affairs of Cambridge Local First.
Through every event I organize, I have made continuous efforts to express my admiration of the arts and the creative economy. As a board member of the Community Art Center and president of Cambridge Carnival International, I have provided these organizations with marketing expertise that largely serves our Black and Brown communities.
My business, The Williams Agency, is a certified Sustainable Business Leader from the Sustainable Network of Massachusetts. As a sustainable food systems expert, I have advocated for local food makers and opportunities to advance the local food economy within Massachusetts. In my work in producing festivals, I have encouraged all of our vendors to conduct environmentally responsible practices, including compostable wares in serving food. Because of these efforts, in 2015, I was recognized as a Cambridge Food Hero for my work with sustainable food. I also launched the City of Cambridge's award-winning “alternative to driving” campaign: EXPRESS Yourself: Cambridge, the city’s first campaign to encourage alternative modes of transportation other than automobiles and to address pollution.
As a tenant organizer, after rent control was defeated, I organized with neighbors in my building and provided leadership so we could collectively own our units, successfully converting from renters to owners. I also provided technical assistance, coaching, and leadership development for tenants in Walden Square to organize and launch their own Tenant-led nonprofit so they, as leaders, can manage their programs and make programmatic decisions for their community.
What is a stand or action you have taken that has displeased some Cambridge voters?
Not thinking that it is possible for rent control, in its past form, to pass today in the state legislature with enough votes. I am, however, attempting to institute rent stabilization policies that incentivize property owners to offer below-market rents for stable housing. From December 1970 until 1994, rental units built before 1969 were regulated in Cambridge by rent control which tightly restricted rent increases and the removal of rentable units. The intent of the ordinance was to guarantee affordable rental housing and ensure financial stability of tenets. In 1994, Massachusetts chose to eliminate rent control with 60 percent of Cambridge residents voting to retain the ordinance. That is why I support Cambridge adopting a form of rent regulation called rent stabilization. NYC has seen huge success with 50% of their rental market classified as rent stabilized units. Essentially, once in a stabilized apartment, it is impossible for the landlord to increase your rent beyond a percentage determined yearly and there is a guaranteed right to renew your lease unless there is some breach of the agreement.
What are models and/or strategies Cambridge should use to create more income-restricted affordable housing?
I believe in a Cambridge for all residents, regardless of their race, income, or documented status. Unfortunately, Cambridge’s position as one of the nation’s most expensive and inflated housing markets is pushing out Black and low-income residents, and displacing middle income families. According to the recent Cambridge Community Foundation Equity and Innovation Report, there is a $62,000 income gap between Black residents and all collective Cambridge households. The lack of affordable housing has been one of the top concerns among Cambridge residents and the Cambridge City Council has consistently provided weak solutions to resolving this issue. Increasing affordable housing and pathways to homeownership for low and middle-income residents is necessary for retaining our continued racial and economic diversity in our city.
My housing plan centers on empowering communities to 1) build wealth through homeownership programs, cooperatives, community land trusts, and innovative down payment programs; 2) create pathways for families that allow them to accept promotions without risking their housing and without strings attached; and 3) change Cambridge’s ineffective homeownership program to allow families to be able to build equity and pass along their homes to their families.
We need pathways for transitioning residents as their income improves, so they are not displaced; develop a comprehensive and regional approach to housing and transportation that is affordable and environmentally sustainable for all; and institute rent stabilization policies that incentivize property owners to offer below market rents for stable housing.
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. We need a regional approach to housing that will work with elected leaders in Boston, Somerville, and other nearby municipalities to help end displacement, create reasonable rent stabilization policies, and develop a pathway for economic empowerment for our residents. Cambridge must reject policies that prioritize developers over residents and has no plan for affordability, develop a comprehensive and regional approach to housing and transportation that is affordable and environmentally sustainable for all. We also need home ownership programs that offer pathways for families to build home equity and the ability to pass down their homes to family members. My campaign is proposing the 50/20 Plan that will raise our affordability from 14.5% to 20% and increase our homeownership from 35% to 50% by 2040. Neighboring Somerville is implementing a plan similar to raise affordability. My 50/20 Plan will only be achievable with thoughtful, deliberate, and proactive policy planning and execution.
How can Cambridge better protect tenants against displacement? (Please focus your answer on strategies within municipal authority.)
I believe that housing is a human right and policies in Cambridge should reflect that. Our city should develop policy focused on creating housing, retaining housing, and improving housing stability for low and middle-income constituents, including the unhoused and essential workers such as nurses, teachers, first responders and social workers. The policies and actions that can be developed under existing municipal powers include:
Building new forms of social housing such as limited-equity co-ops and land trusts. Building publicly financed social housing on underutilized city-owned lots, and on top of municipal properties, such as certain libraries and municipal buildings. Supporting tenants’ right of first refusal for condo conversions. Enacting a Housing First policy to address homelessness, which has a low barrier to entry, provides supportive services, and does not require people experiencing homelessness to graduate through a series of programs or address behavioral health issues before they can access housing. This can include, but is not exclusive to, permanent supportive housing models. Supporting better home ownership programs for marginalized groups and the underserved in order to build equity. Revamping our Homebridge program and replacing it with an affordable down payment program that offers the owner the opportunity to build equity and pass the property down to their children. Expanding partnership with major Cambridge corporations, universities, institutions and developers in providing funds for low and middle income housing. My vision is for the investment to be 300 million dollars over the next 19 years.
Do you believe we have a climate obligation to pursue greater density and allow more people to live here?
Generally Not. Cambridge holds a moral obligation to develop a comprehensive and regional approach to housing and transportation that is affordable and environmentally sustainable for all while also ensuring that we have a green contract for every new residential and commercial development affordably. Urban infill is a great tool in increasing the supply of housing but it’s implementation doesn’t lead to addressing climate change and preserving our environment. Urban infill is useful for decreasing travel times but when it comes to reducing carbon emissions it's not as beneficial because it doesn’t cut out that much driving especially without expanding on public transport as an alternative. That is why, expanding the use of urban infills must be concurrent with the expansion of public transit and reimagining public transportation in a more accessible, safer and greener way. This issue cannot be addressed by Cambridge alone. That’s why I’m committed to working with municipal leaders in neighboring cities to create a regional approach around transportation. We need to invest in our transportation to disincentivize the unnecessary use of cars. More and more options for affordable housing are being moved further away from job centers, and as a result, low income residents suffer from the large costs for transit. Developing partnerships between transit-oriented development and its users would benefit both the MTBA and nearby riders.
Do you support the affordable housing proposal at 2072 Mass Ave?
Generally Not. First and foremost, I support housing development projects that offer affordable housing options. I do not support this project in its current form. It is not family friendly with small units and one elevator for over 200 residents. I also feel its scale and density is too vast for the location. There have been accidents at the corner of Mass Ave and Walden Street, including a death. Also, the quality of life of our vulnerable seniors next door to the building would be affected with less shade and less privacy.
Do you support changing neighborhood zoning, including dimensional standards, to allow small-scale multi-family housing like triple-deckers, four-plexes, and six-plexes?
Generally. I would like to increase our affordable housing in Cambridge from 14.5% to 20% by 2040. In order to achieve those goals, we need to increase housing density. I also support increasing affordable housing with existing housing stock to offer a tax break to landlords for offering below market rents.
Do you believe Cambridge should stop requiring new off-street parking for all residential development?
Generally. As an environmentalist, I support minimizing the use of parking as much as possible for open space. Space is a big factor for new housing development, especially denser affordable housing. Parking takes up a large amount of land as most of Cambridge relies on their cars as opposed to public transportation. Balancing the amount of units with available parking and open spaces is challenging but should be at the forefront of planning when increasing affordable housing.
We also need to make sure that we understand the needs of the constituents needing subsidized housing. I think it is imperative that a survey be done to assess the work schedules and reliability of public transportation. Unlike New York City, the Boston area does not have 24 hour transit services and from my grassroots experience, many of our low income and BIPOC residents are service workers and blue collar workers. They have to rely on cars to get to work overnight and night shifts and some of them are self employed as Uber and Lyft drivers. Due to the lack of affordable grocery stores in Cambridge, grocery shopping needs to be outside of Cambridge at places such as Market Basket in Somerville and other affordable grocery stores in Boston. Working families with young children unfortunately need to rely on their cars to purchase food for their household and transporting their young children to day care (if they can afford it), or to another family member to care for the children while they work.
Do you believe Neighborhood Conservation District rules need reform?
Generally Not. I do not agree that Cambridge Historical Commission, Conservation Districts and Neighborhood Organizations are obstacles to affordable housing. I do believe there is some historical context that have excluded certain races and classes, and today, we need to continuously work on improving that. As a Vice President of my neighborhood association, I believe that our associations need to be more diverse, both racially and socio-economically. We also have two neighborhood associations: Area 4/Port and Riverside that serve significant Black and Hispanic residents but are not fully operational.
Do you support a municipally funded right to counsel for every Cambridge tenant facing eviction?
Yes. Cambridge needs to support tenant protections like the Right of First Refusal and the Right to Counsel which drastically decreases peoples’ odds of eviction.
How far, if at all, should the City Council go in encouraging transit-oriented development? How should the City Council go about doing it?
It is imperative that during the rollout of the Cambridge Bicycle Plan of quick-build and capital improvements, the organization be responsible to engage key stakeholders including local businesses, neighborhood associations, and neighborhood residents. Cambridge must support the expansion of pedestrian-friendly streets; closing streets and utilizing parking lots in our squares, while activating those squares to attract new customers for our business owners.
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 agree with the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by replacing gas stoves with electric stoves, and I also supported the green roofs ordinance that was passed this year. I disagree with the fact that public housing developments are pretty much exempt from environmental standards. Low income neighbors need the same access to trees as the privileged and environmental justice is serious. The highest rates of asthma are prevalent in low income communities and communities of color.
What can the next City Manager do to promote your housing priorities?
I would love for a progressive Manager with strong community centered experience. Also, I would seek out more diverse candidates, including women and people of color. They need to support municipal broadband and have a strong fiscal background. They also need to demonstrate leadership skills as well as being able to work with diverse communities and diverse opinions and agendas. It is also important for the Manager to understand the meaning of an equitable, inclusive and diverse community. How that translates into housing is I want to see more tenants become owners and reform Cambridge's ineffective homeownership agenda that is co-opted and dictated by developer-backed PACS and that deter families from being able to build equity and pass along to their families. We need home ownership programs that offer pathways for families to build home equity and the ability to pass down their homes to family members. Cambridge residents deserve a city that prioritizes the needs of the people before the needs of developers, such as advocating for more affordable grocery stores in our communities as well.
What should the city do to increase walking, biking, and transit usage in Cambridge?
We need more protected bike lanes while further developing our transit infrastructure to ensure accessibility and safety to those who need these services. The Red line has been chronically underfunded and riders are frustrated with the lack of innovative solutions. As I reiterated previously, we need to work with municipal leaders in neighboring cities to create a regional approach around transportation. I also believe in working with local businesses and the local community in helping to achieve space for walking, biking, and transit infrastructure that many people support. Developing partnerships between transit-oriented development and its users would benefit both the MTBA and nearby riders. Additionally, I support a local pilot to offer free public transportation in Cambridge including free bus transit vouchers for those in need. I am also committed to creating policies that encourage people to use sustainable modes of transit when possible. In order to encourage communal travel, the city of Cambridge must invest in infrastructure and services that will make this goal feasible. Raising revenue for investment in clean transportation solutions is an integral strategy to addressing this and bringing our transportation system into the 21st century.
Aside from housing and land use issues, what are some major priorities you hope to push for on the City Council?
My campaign primarily addresses the following issues: the ongoing climate crisis, economic and educational inequities, racial injustices, and urban transportation challenges. Cambridge legislation has continuously proven to fail our communities with the inequalities of our children’s education due to underinvestment; minimal innovative solutions to dramatically transform and create more equitable modes of transportation; and the persistence of the growing wealth gap that has exacerbated inequities in our local economic ecosystems.