Cathie Zusy

I have worked to foster community for 25 years, leading the revitalization of Magazine Beach Park (the City’s second largest park); co-launching the restoration of the 1886 St. Augustine’s African-Orthodox Church; originating the community art event “If This House Could Talk…”; and advocating for open space, native plants, and the arts.

I love Cambridge’s energy and diversity. Through my decades of community service, I have come to know how the City is governed and managed – and the importance of collaboration to achieve goals. I want to bring my skills, energy and imagination to the City Council to help make Cambridge its best. This includes tackling the challenges of housing, transportation, and climate change.

My community service has included: President, Magazine Beach Partners Past President & Current Treasurer, Cambridgeport Neighborhood Association Member, Cambridge News Advisory Board Treasurer, Afterworks (after-school program for immigrant children) Board Member, Cambridge Performance Project (Community Schools arts program) Co-founder, Cambridgeport Neighborhood Group Former Member, Morse School Improvement Council & Community School Advisory Committee

What is your personal experience of housing in Cambridge and how has that affected your decision to run for city council? Do you rent or own? Have you ever lived in public or subsidized housing?

My husband and I purchased our home in Cambridgeport in 1995. We paid more than we wanted to then. We were both renters prior. I am sensitive to the need for cheaper entry level housing for individuals and families. When we first moved to this area, we each rented rooms and small apartments for $450 and $650 a month—not the $2k-$3k that a one-bedroom apartment costs now. It was a lot easier to get by. I could manage this rent and a career in the arts. 
I have never lived in public or subsidized housing.

As City Councillor, what would be your top priorities to address our housing crisis?

I agree that we need to add more housing for people of all economic means and the infrastructure to support it. This should be smart growth near transit hubs and corridors. But we also need to preserve architectural character and neighborhood cohesion. We don’t want oversized buildings built anywhere and everywhere, casting shadows, filling green open spaces and decimating old trees. Everyone needs light, the sky and access to nature.

We need balance. It costs about $1m to build an affordable housing unit in Cambridge. At that cost, we can’t provide housing for everyone who would like to live here. Currently 15% of our housing is income restricted (about 8,500 units). Most neighboring towns only have 6-10% of their housing stock as affordable units. So we while we should continue to expand our housing inventory, this is a regional issue that we can’t solve alone. This is especially so because 1. this is already a very densely packed city with very high real estate and construction prices; and 2. there is a worldwide demand for real estate here. (We have the trifecta: we are close to Boston, the capital; close to Harvard and MIT; and close to Kendall Sq., an innovation hub.)

I also understand that while we may have a waiting list for housing of over 22,000, that fewer than 6,000 of these people live or work in Cambridge.

As Councillor, will you champion efforts to end exclusionary zoning in Cambridge by reforming the zoning code to allow, at minimum, four-story multi-family housing by right in all Cambridge neighborhoods?

No. I don’t think our housing shortage is due to conscious classism or racism. Property is costly in Cambridge and it’s expensive to build here. Also, developers haven’t received clear messaging from the City about where and what they can build. Envision Cambridge was a first. Step. Now we need to provide zoning guidelines.

In conjunction with direct support for affordable housing and inclusionary zoning requirements, do you believe that new market-rate housing development is a key pillar in making Cambridge an affordable city?

Generally Not. There is a global and insatiable demand for housing here. People will want to live here as long as Cambridge remains a vital community and innovation center, with great schools and city services, and historic character, parks and big old trees. I understand your impulse to build more, with less restrictions, hoping that it will make Cambridge affordable. But I don’t think this is true and believe that the helter skelter development that would result could ruin what is wonderful about this City.

Do you believe Cambridge should go further to promote transit-oriented housing development, such as allowing greater height and density within walking distance of MBTA stations?

Generally Not. Yes, we want smart growth, but AHO and AHO 2 will already encourage this.

Do you support the proposed Alewife overlay district?

Generally Yes

Do you support also rezoning the Fresh Pond shopping center?

Generally Not. I don’t know. (That’s not an answer option!) I am concerned about all of this concentrated development in the Great Swamp and I think it’s crazy that the City didn’t zone it long ago, ensuring that it would have a street grid, green open spaces, City land for City services and a bridge connecting it to the Alewife T.

Do you support the proposal to expand the Affordable Housing Overlay to allow more height for 100% affordable housing development in major squares (15 stories) and corridors (12 stories)?

No. For proposed developments not to be reviewed by the Planning Board or neighboring community is crazy. We need checks and balances and design review, while often painful, often improve outcomes. We also need setbacks and need to protect historic buildings and open space. And we can’t cast shadows wherever. Neighbors are impacted by tall buildings!

Do you support further increasing city funding for affordable housing to 10% of the City budget?

Generally Not. Let’s see what our budget priorities and needs are. We also need to answer: how much of our housing should be affordable housing? Currently, 15% of our housing is income restricted. As is, Cambridge provides far more affordable housing than most neighboring communities.

How can Cambridge better protect tenants against displacement?

I don’t know. I need to learn more about this!

ABC has repeatedly supported state legislation enabling cities to better protect tenants. Do you support such legislation?

Generally Not

If something like it passed, what kind of city tenant protections would you favor? Would you support any kind of rent stabilization, such as the petition from Mayor Wu, which would cap rent increases at a maximum of 10% while exempting new construction, along with requiring just cause for eviction?

I don’t know about this. Again, “don’t know” wasn’t an answer option!

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

Generally Yes. I believe in smart growth and that we must grow our housing for people of all economic means!

Do you favor an at-large system over a ward-based system?

Yes. We need to elect Councillors who will govern for ALL OF THE CITY.

The City Council is currently considering NCD reforms which would increase diversity on boards and commissions, amplify the voices of renters, exempt affordable housing, and enforce term limits. Do you believe these bodies need reform generally?


Do you support the proposed NCD reforms specifically?

No. I think that your efforts here are and will be destructive to the City. Housing shouldn’t be built anywhere and anywhere. We need checks and balances. Planning, Zoning and Historical Commission boards are made of people with a broad interest in the City–not just an interest in building more housing. We need this balance. These board members also often have architectural, planning or historic preservation expertise that is invaluable.

Would you support combining the City’s housing functions in a new Housing Department headed by a new Assistant City Manager, or is there an alternative approach to organization / staffing you would support? How specifically would you hold the City Manager and city staff accountable for meeting housing goals?

I don’t know. Need to think about that. That we have 1.5k affordable units currently under construction is a good thing! Again, we need to answer: How much additional housing do we want to add–for all economic levels.

Do you have anything else you’d like to highlight about your candidacy?