Jivan Sobrinho-Wheeler

I’m running for City Council because Cambridge can lead the way on housing and child care affordability, climate resilience and sustainability, safe streets, and reliable transportation. I previously served on the City Council in 2020-2021. In my first term, I helped pass the original Affordable Housing Overlay, worked on legislation to increase the City’s affordable housing linkage fee, and introduced the 2020 Cycling Safety Ordinance that is creating miles of new bike and bus lanes in Cambridge.

Since my previous term on the City Council, I’ve been the New England Progressive Governance Director for the Working Families Party, working with state and local elected officials, advocates, and residents to craft legislation on affordable housing, child care, and more. Before starting on the Council, I worked at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy in Cambridge. I live in Cambridgeport with my partner and our cat, Eden, and like two-thirds of Cambridge residents, I’m a renter.

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?

After my parents separated when I was a toddler, my mom and I moved into subsidized housing in Springfield, MA. As a renter in Cambridge, I personally understand the need for better tenant protections and rent stabilization, the necessity of ending exclusionary zoning to allow more affordable housing to be created, and the possibilities that new housing options like a community land trust and social housing can present.

I’ve also volunteered with groups like City Life / Vida Urbana to support tenant unions to fight for better living conditions, resist displacement, and effect policy. Working at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy also shaped my understanding of land-use policy and interest in engaging on issues of housing, climate, transit, zoning, and planning, which is so much of the work that the Council does.

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

To create more affordable housing in the city, Cambridge should expand the Affordable Housing Overlay, strengthen tenant rights, incentivize creating housing especially in areas that have relatively little like Kendall Square and Alewife, and utilize our prop 2 ½ levy capacity to put millions more toward affordable housing each year. As the Council has been working on this year, Cambridge should expand the AHO to allow for more units and diverse types of affordable and public housing throughout the city, including on major corridors and near transit. If the Council is not able to pass the AHO amendments that have been discussed this term for whatever reason, this will be one of the first items on my agenda. Cambridge should also seek to improve tenant support by learning from cities such as Somerville and Boston that have recently strengthened their tenant rights notification requirements and provide robust assistance through a fully staffed, multilingual Office of Housing Stability.

Unlike many other municipalities in Massachusetts, Cambridge is significantly below its Prop 2 ½ levy limit in our annual budget. Due to our commercial tax base and split-rate, even a modest increase would generate millions more dollars of revenue in the annual budget, a large portion of which would come from levies on corporate landholders. Finally, Cambridge should re-examine how our planning and zoning processes lead to the creation of housing or lack thereof, particularly in areas like Kendall and Alewife, that currently have relatively little housing. Given the ongoing underutilization of office space due to remote work, this should include exploring how to incentivize the conversion of commercial space to housing, as Boston and other municipalities have been doing.

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. Yes, the triple-decker I live in, which was built several decades ago, is currently illegal to build in much of the city. In multiple zoning districts, the zoning currently prohibits anything except a single-family home or duplex, which bans any new triple-deckers or apartment buildings. And even in my neighborhood, which on paper allows multi-family housing under the current zoning, my apartment likely couldn’t be built today because the set-back and minimum lot-size requirements prohibit it. According to the City’s data, the median cost of a single-family home in Cambridge is more than $1.7 million, which is out of the range of the vast majority of people in Cambridge. Yet the City’s zoning encourages existing housing, including more affordable triple-deckers and apartments, be torn down and replaced with large and expensive single-unit houses. We need to instead encourage more affordable types of housing, including four-story multi-family housing and beyond, in areas where it is currently only possible to build mostly expensive single-unit housing.

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. Cambridge has long been a city defined by its racial and economic diversity, and we risk losing that if most of the housing that’s available is out of reach to working-class residents and wait-lists for affordable housing have more than 20,000 people on them. Only encouraging that all housing becomes broadly affordable will maintain Cambridge as a community for everyone. Exclusionary zoning dates back to the era of red-lining and racial covenants designed to keep diversity out of certain areas. Cambridge must end this type of zoning, which has kept the types of housing that most people can afford out of significant parts of our city and has too often instead prioritized the creation of new multi-million dollar McMansion-style housing. We also need to invest significantly more in affordable housing, which Cambridge has the capacity to do. And while broad affordability is definitely the goal to strive for, a market-only approach to housing affordability will not solve Cambridge’s housing crisis in the same way the market hasn’t met the basic human needs like education or healthcare—we need to combine ending exclusionary zoning with a robust public response in terms of public funding, tenant protections like rent control, tenant opportunity to purchase, right to counsel, and community responses like CDCs and Community Land Trusts.

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?

Yes. Yes, nearly all of Cambridge is within a short walk of a public transit stop, either a bus stop or the Red or Green Lines. It does not make sense that triple-deckers and other apartments are banned in much of the city through our zoning—either explicitly, by allowing only single and two-family housing, or implicitly, through minimum lot size requirements and other zoning measures. Additionally, corridors like Mass Ave which are well-served by public-investments in subway and bus lines have sections with very little housing available to residents and workers, which the City can and should do more to improve via zoning and planning processes. The proposal for housing at 2072 Mass Ave, which would have been 100% affordable and within sight of a T stop, is a prime example of the kind of transit-oriented housing that should be possible under our zoning but is currently not.

Do you support the proposed Alewife overlay district?

Generally Yes

Do you support also rezoning the Fresh Pond shopping center?

Yes. Incentivizing more housing in Alewife, which has seen the creation of many more jobs than homes, is an important planning goal. We should also push for more improvements to amenities and transportation connections in Alewife through direct public investments and zoning contributions in order to make it into a vibrant, walkable neighborhood like so many others in our city. I would have been interested in seeing the Fresh Pond shopping center included in the rezoning.

The Fresh Pond shopping center is located on a piece of land a short walk from a major public transit site but is currently used mostly for car storage. I would be interested in rezoning the parcel in a way that incentives housing and planning for better connections to public transit and multi-modal paths.

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)?

Yes. Yes, I was a co-sponsor of the original Affordable Housing Overlay and am proud that my election in 2019 helped get it across the finish line. The original AHO was designed to be a “floor” for affordable housing in Cambridge, and I’ve been disappointed to see the BZA suggest that the Affordable Housing Overlay should instead be a “ceiling” over which it may not approve affordable housing proposals. I support the City Council expanding the Affordable Housing Overlay to encompass creating affordable housing up to at least 15 stories in major squares and 12 stories along corridors.

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

Yes. Yes, With housing costs continuing to be out of reach for most residents and a CHA waiting list with more than 20,000 people on it, Cambridge must prioritize affordable housing in its budget. A municipal budget is both a planning document and a moral document, and according to Cambridge’s annual resident surveys, housing continues to be most residents’ top concern. Cambridge also has the budget capacity to fund affordable housing at 10% of the City budget without a significant increase to residential property taxes due to the significant amount of tax revenue generated by commercial real estate and the city’s split-rate property tax.

How can Cambridge better protect tenants against displacement?

Cambridge should create an Office of Housing Stability as a one-stop shop to help tenants with legal and housing search issues in all of Cambridge’s most spoken languages, lead policy work at the local and state levels, and collect data on housing in Cambridge, including on construction, cost, eviction, and displacement, to help guide policy-making. While some of this work currently exists, Cambridge should follow the lead of Boston and Somerville in creating a single-office to guide all the different aspects and provide a clear, initial point of access for residents.

I’ve also worked with the lead sponsor, Mayor Siddiqui, on a Condo Conversion Ordinance to provide eviction protections, a right to purchase, and relocation assistance of $10-15k to tenants who cannot purchase in buildings that are being converted from rental apartments to condos. Additionally, given how much Massachusetts limits the authority of municipalities on tenant protections, we must work with municipalities across the Commonwealth to instill greater urgency to pass policies which are available to cities in other states. Anti-displacement measures, including rent control, just cause eviction, and tenant opportunity to purchase (TOPA), are tools that the City desperately needs in its toolbox, and Cambridge should work together with advocates in municipalities across Massachusetts to pass them statewide.

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


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?

Yes. I have worked to advance tenant protection legislation as a resident, former City Councillor, and in my current role working with state and local legislators across New England. If such legislation were to pass, I would push to enact local ordinances including rent stabilization, just cause eviction, and tenant opportunity to purchase (TOPA). In my previous term on the Council, I also worked on efforts led by the mayor to strengthen Cambridge’s condo conversion ordinance to protect tenants in rental units where the property owner sought to convert the building to condos.

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

Yes. Yes. Creating more affordable housing in Cambridge is not just a climate issue but an economic, racial equity, and labor issue. Right now, many working-class people spend hours each week commuting to and from their jobs in Cambridge because they cannot afford to live here. Meanwhile, thousands of Cambridge residents have been priced out of their homes and displaced to other communities, but continue commuting here for work. That means greater emissions produced by people to get to Cambridge, but it also means workers are spending more time stuck in traffic and less time with their families or getting to doctor’s appointments. Ending exclusionary zoning and taxing big corporations to create new public and affordable housing both reduces emissions and allows workers who are getting priced out of Cambridge—custodians, social workers, teachers, and others—to live here and have access to Cambridge’s bountiful amenities—our wonderful parks, schools, and libraries—and thus spending less of their lives commuting each week.

Municipal policies like improving public transit and transportation are also key to addressing climate change. Making it easier to get around by bus, subway, bike, or foot both reduces emissions and makes it easier for residents who cannot afford a car to get around the city. We can do this by adding dedicated bus and bike lanes, eliminating fares that burden low-income residents and delays travel time—especially for bus travel where fares are collected as riders board—and investing in municipal sidewalk snow removal.

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

Yes. Yes, I would oppose efforts to move away from Cambridge’s proportional representation electoral system to a ward-based system. Proportional representation allows greater representation for residents and candidates that would be shut out in a ward-based system. The benefit that is sometimes given as an argument for ward-based systems is better constituent services by having a dedicated Councillor for each neighborhood, but there are ways of achieving that without changing the electoral model.

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?

Yes. Yes, in my previous term on the Council, I pushed for the charter amendment that now requires City Manager appointments to these boards be approved by the City Council. I also pushed for the addition of paid stipends for serving on these boards to encourage a greater diversity of residents to apply. These boards have a tremendous amount of power over housing and planning decisions, and there is more we can do to examine what powers they have and recruit a greater diversity of qualified applicants who may not have been able to—or may not have considered—serving previously.

Too often, neighborhood and historical preservation—not just in Cambridge but nationally—have unfortunately been used as tools by appointed bodies that are less representative than the community as a whole in terms of racial and economic diversity to block housing. While there will continue to be important work for historical bodies educating and passing on the unique legacy of Cambridge, that goal can be achieved without preserving in amber areas that are currently among the most expensive and exclusive. For hundreds of years, Cambridge has evolved and changed to meet the needs of residents. A pressing need now is for housing that people can actually afford, and we need to ensure that enabling legislation for preservation doesn’t block that goal.

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?

Yes, I would support the creation of a dedicated Housing Department headed by an Assistant City Manager as a way to streamline and strengthen the City’s commitment to its affordable housing goals. This would also facilitate the creation of a dedicated Office of Housing Stability within the new Department, which Somerville and Boston have. In my previous term on the Council, I pushed for the Council to do a public performance review of the City Manager—which was required in the Manager’s contract but had not been followed through on. I also successfully pushed to include the requirement for an annual City Manager performance review as a charter amendment, which was passed by voters in 2021. If elected to the Council again, I would seek to partner with, and hold accountable, the City Manager and staff both through regular check-in and committee meetings, as well as through enhanced checks and balances written into the City’s charter via the ongoing charter review process. Ultimately, currently, only the nine City Councillors have a say on the city’s chief executive and administration of city government, and I take that responsibility very seriously.

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

I believe expanding affordable child care and after-school programs is deeply intertwined with housing affordability as a means of making Cambridge a place that everyone can call home. Having worked on this issue in my current job, I hope to bring strategies of adding financial support for families, expanding the number of available spots for children, and increasing educational support and compensation for childhood educators to improve staffing and retention to Cambridge.

I’m also a supporter of improving safe streets for pedestrians and cyclists, especially because I lost part of my two front teeth in a bike crash in Cambridge on a street that did not have protected bike lanes. In my previous term on the Council, I passed the 2020 Cycling Safety Ordinance that is creating miles of new bike and bus lanes in Cambridge and pushed for increased municipal sidewalk snow removal.

Finally, I’m also a believer in adding municipal broadband in Cambridge to end the virtual Comcast monopoly on broadband internet in the city. Nearly 50% of low-income households do not have access to broadband and all of us are stuck with too few options for internet access, with inadequate service and high costs.