Doug Brown

I am a part-time project manager and full-time stay-at-home dad. I am married with 3 young kids, ages 9, 11, and 13. I have a background in software product management and education. I have been active in local issues for a decade. My focus during that time has been on smart urban planning, climate resiliency, zoning reform, support for families (particularly middle income families), and efforts to increase municipal transparency and accountability.

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?

I moved to Cambridge 24 years ago. During that time I have moved 6 times, including 3 homes that I owned and renovated and 3 apartments that I rented. I have friends who own and friends who rent. I don’t believe that either is “better” than the other. I have never lived in public or subsidized housing, though I did experience a brief period of homelessness after college when high housing costs forced me to live in my car for a time.

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

As long as I have lived in Cambridge, our City has had a housing affordability issue. (My first apartment here included 6 other roommates). Cambridge is a desirable place to live, as shown by both our housing prices and our housing waitlist. Though the problem is too big to solve on our own (at current costs, clearing the entire waitlist would cost us more than $20 billion), a multi-pronged approach may help address the most pressing housing needs of our residents.

For those Cambridge residents currently on the waitlist, I support the City issuing a housing bond to support increased housing production.

For renters who wish to own, I believe that we should support the creation of a community land trust to enable more home ownership opportunities. I also would support a city program to provide grants or 0% interest loans for first-time down payments.

For renters who prefer continuing to rent, we need to solve our vacancy issue. 10% of all housing units are currently vacant, often due to real estate speculation and/or foreign investment, but also because owners can’t afford to fund necessary repairs. Some states are experimenting with controls on house flipping and on foreign ownership, while others are providing grants to fund repairs. We should pursue both options.

For current owners, it’s time to consider moderate zoning reform to allow incremental expansion of the existing housing stock.

And for all residents, I support funding an ADU grant program as an economical and fast way to add units in existing neighborhoods. Vermont, California, and even Boston have such programs, with grants up to $50,000 for each ADU, provided the grantees agree to rent only to full-time residents and keep rents at a fair price.

In the end, making progress against this seemingly forever problem is less about specific programs and approaches, and more about how we all live together and make decisions in an already dense urban environment.

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?

Yes. The so-called Brown petition, which I filed with the City Council this spring and will refile if elected in November, proposes the elimination of single family-only zoning across the City, increases FAR allowances, incrementally reduces lot size requirements and increases unit counts, further liberalizes ADU rules, and updates numerous other zoning requirements that often frustrate homeowners in need of renovations.

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 Yes. Though I support new housing construction at all price levels, in my experience additional market-rate housing, particularly in large and less desirable new developments, does little to effect low- or moderate-income housing supply in the short- to medium-term and may, via condo conversions and house flipping, actually increase displacement and limit low/moderate income home ownership opportunities.

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 Yes. Yes, I believe that access to quality transit is important for new housing creation and for future climate efforts. As a result, I have long supported a pedestrian bridge, underpass, and rail stop for new housing at Alewife/Rindge Ave, at the same time that I have opposed the inclusion of our secondary corridors that are not served by mass transit in the latest AHO amendments.

Do you support the proposed Alewife overlay district?


Do you support also rezoning the Fresh Pond shopping center?

Yes. I served on the original Envision Alewife Working Group and the more recent Alewife Zoning Working Group. I support the Working Groups’ final conclusions. I also expect to be actively involved in crafting new rules for the shopping center.

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. I don’t support the AHO, particularly along secondary corridors that have neither retail nor quality public transit. I also believe that the heights and dimensions permitted under the proposed AHO amendments are extreme and entirely inappropriate for existing neighborhoods.

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

Generally Yes. While I support increasing public funding for NON-PROFIT affordable housing developers, I oppose the City bankrolling FOR-PROFIT affordable developers and believe that all developers receiving public funding should be required to publish a pro forma that fully details their project finances.

How can Cambridge better protect tenants against displacement?

As discussed earlier, Cambridge has a displacement problem, driven by condo conversions, house flipping, and increased foreign property speculation. I would propose new rules to address each of these areas, including a right of tenant first refusal, limits on foreign investment, a “real person” rule disclosing the true purchasers of properties, anti-flipping rules, and a vacancy tax similar to Washington DC.

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

Generally Yes

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 support increased tenant protections, though the specifics of any such proposal needs to be carefully weighed against the likely impacts on local housing availability and quality.

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

Yes. I served as the Co-chair of the City’s Climate Resilient Zoning Task Force, which recently updated the Zoning Ordinance to include new resiliency measures. I believe that more density is appropriate, but only it it can be done responsibly with proper protections for open space, reuse of historic structures, and truly equitable transit options.

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

Yes. I favor an at-large system of representation, as I believe that it better ensures Councilors will work together on issues outside their neighborhoods.

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?

Generally Yes

Do you support the proposed NCD reforms specifically?

Generally Not. As mentioned above, I support term limits for all elected and appointed officials, including the City Council, School Committee, and all boards and commissions. I believe that none of these positions were ever meant to be lifetime appointments, and, in the case of City Councilors, that 10 years is enough time to accomplish a legislative agenda.

Regarding NCDs, I support efforts to diversify membership but strongly believe that members must be neighborhood residents if at all possible. I do not support recent efforts to weak NCDs. Despite talk of “holding up” projects, NCDs and other appointed boards and commissions result in better project outcomes in most if not all cases.

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 support the current City Manager in whatever way he chooses to organize or reorganize his administration. I trust his judgement to do what is best for the City. It is the Council’s job to set clear expectations of WHAT our housing goals are, not to instruct the Manager on HOW to achieve those goals. For too long, the Council has been lacking in clear goal setting.

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

I believe that Cambridge needs to do more for our middle-income families, which recent studies suggest are departing the city at an alarming rate. Besides high housing costs, such support must address other significant challenges to moderate-income families, including underperforming middle schools, limited child care and after school options, and even simple concerns like the availability of convenient public restrooms and working water fountains in all our public parks and playgrounds.