Since joining the Council 10 years ago, I have been a leader on housing issues. From raising the Inclusionary Zoning percentage, to raising the linkage fee, to most notably, the Affordable Housing Overlay, I don’t give lip service to supporting housing, I champion it. As a social worker of 30 years, I have worked with some of the most vulnerable families in our state. I know the difference stable housing can make in a person’s life. And for those renters moving to Cambridge, I want you to be able to settle here, as my great-grandfather did in 1918. I want you to plant your roots, and raise your family in this wonderful city. While some see the “character” of Cambridge as the look of our buildings, I see the character as the people who live in those buildings. Our diversity is our strength, and we are losing it. I don’t want Cambridge to become a bigger Wellesley. I want Cambridge to be a thriving, diverse, multi-cultural city, and to have that, we need to build more housing.
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 family has lived in Cambridge since 1918. I currently live in my family home with my wife and 13 year-old twins. Although I was a renter for the majority of my life, I was not housing insecure. I always knew that I had a family home if needed. It is that privilege that makes me such a strong supporter of housing development, affordable housing especially. I know the difference housing security meant in my life and I want other people to have it as well. Prior to serving on the City Council, I served on the Cambridge School Committee, and what became crystal clear was that no matter how great our teachers were, or our curriculum was, our students were not going to meet their full potential if they were housing insecure, or had to worry about food on the table or their electricity being turned off. This is why I ran for City Council. Although many in Cambridge are doing well, far to many are not. It is my commitment to making sure that everyone has what they need to be successful that drove me to run for Council. I have been fighting for social and economic justice and will continue to do so.
As City Councillor, what would be your top priorities to address our housing crisis?
We need to build more housing. The data is clear. Supply has not kept pace with demand. Not even close. Hopefully the amendments to the AHO will pass this term. If not, I will be putting them forward again next term. But we know that the AHO is only one tool. We need to pass the Missing Middle petition to allow for smaller housing, starter homes, to be built. This term I co-sponsored a motion to increase funding to the Affordable Housing Trust by $20 million to allow them more flexibility in purchasing available property. That order passed on a 5-4 vote and now sits on the desk of the City Manager. I will continue to fight to get that funding. We must end exclusionary zoning, and not just performatively, but make the zoning changes necessary to ensure that the type of housing we want built can actually be built. The city needs to purchase more land and then use that land for housing. We also need to build on land we already own, like the parking lots in Central.
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. During my term as Mayor, my office produced a report, “The Kind of City which is Desirable and Obtainable: A Brief History of Zoning in Cambridge.” What we found is that Cambridge played a large role in the fight to allow cities the right to create their own zoning. What we also found is that once we had that authority, many of the decisions were based on racist and classist believes. Parts of Cambridge were designated as “more desirable” and those places were zoned for large lots and single family homes. Our current zoning is built on these racist principals. Now, none of us were alive then and aren’t responsible for those decisions, but we are alive now, and we are responsible for either letting them continue or not. Every neighborhood must be part of solving our housing crisis. We must dismantle our past mistakes. Every current Councillor, and likely every candidate will agree with this. The question is how far are they willing to go. Are we going to do this in name only, or are we going to change zoning requirements to allow more housing to be built. I will support zoning changes.
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?
Yes. After rent control was voted out in 1994, a number of things came together. The government control over rents was lost, leading to increased home values. That led to many long-time homeowners selling their rental property, which led to increased condo conversion, thus taking formally rental stock off the market. At the same time, Kendall Square was growing with industries that paid much higher wages then the factories decades before. With less government control, fewer units available and an increase in people moving to the city, who were making high wages, is it any surprise that rents skyrocketed? Some will say, “We will never build our way out of this,” I’m not sure that’s true, but what I am sure of is NOT building housing isn’t the answer.
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. Cambridge has to do more and lead. I don’t accept the mantra, “We’ve done enough.” I don’t accept it on environmental issues and I don’t accept it on housing. I know the MBTA has many issues, and some will use that as an excuse not to build more housing. You can always find an excuse to keep the status quo, and we certainly have to work as a city and state to address public transportation, but we have to chew gum and walk at the same time. Building more dense around transit is good for the environment and it is good for housing. The Market Central building in Central Square houses approximately 500 people on less than an acre, across the street from the Red Line, that is a good thing. Not touched on in this question is also that it is good for our local businesses. All those folks in Market Central show and eat locally.
Do you support the proposed Alewife overlay district?
Do you support also rezoning the Fresh Pond shopping center?
Yes. Overall, I think this plan is good. I would have liked to see more height allowed. If everything goes right and all property owners develop their property to the maximum allowed under this zoning, we will achieve approximately 3,000 housing units. That’s good, but our Envision goals says we need 12,500 units by 2030. I don’t know how we get there without building taller. The shopping mall is a great opportunity, if it ever becomes available. Unlike other family owned properties, like in Harvard Sq, where the next generation sells the property, the Fresh Pond Mall is now in it’s second or third generation of family ownership. There is no indication that they are willing to sell anytime soon. So, yes, we should rezone and create more opportunities, but we can’t rely on that mall being sold as our solution, at least not in the short term.
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. I was the lead sponsor on the original AHO and a co-sponsor on the amendments. Cambridge is 6.5 square miles. Take out what Harvard, MIT and the City owns and our commercial property and we simply don’t have enough space to build 4-5 story buildings and meet our need. The fact that I personally like taller buildings is irrelevant. This is about how do we solve our housing crisis and build more units. When the original AHO was debated, opponents said, “We should allow height and density on the corridors.” That is exactly what the amendments do, and yet those folks are still opposed. No one has been able to show a real plan, not a wishful plan, to build the number of units we need without building taller.
Do you support further increasing city funding for affordable housing to 10% of the City budget?
Yes. I was co-sponsor on this motion, which not only included raising the AHT budget by $20 million in FY24, but also developing a plan to increase the AHT budget to 10% of the city’s operating budget. I don’t just agree with this, I’m sponsoring it.
How can Cambridge better protect tenants against displacement?
I created this task force when I was Mayor. This is challenging because so much does lie with the State. What we have done locally is increase funding for legal aid for tenants, which I supported. We also developed a tenants right’s handbook so that tenants know ahead of time, what their rights are. It is so sad when a tenant is facing eviction and moves out before knowing what their rights are. I think we need to look at a rent stabilization program to cap the percentage of annual rent increases. This is outside of what Cambridge can do on its own, but I voted for our home rule petition to allow us to have this conversation.
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?
Do you believe we have a climate obligation to pursue greater density city-wide and allow more people to live here?
Yes. As stated previously, I believe that people living closer to where they work and to public transit is good for our environment. We currently have teachers and other city employees who live in Brockton and Framingham and drive into Cambridge everyday. That isn’t good for traffic, for the environment or for their quality of life. Not to mention, I want a city where people who teach our kids, clean our streets and work in our local businesses can live, not just for the environment but because it makes us a stronger community.
Do you favor an at-large system over a ward-based system?
Yes. An at-large system is challenging for those of us who run for office, but I’m concerned that a ward based system will lead to less progressive decisions. When you are a ward rep, your job is to advocate for your ward. Your votes depend on the voters in your ward. This makes it more difficult to take a city wide view. You are more inclined to listen to the louder voices in your ward, often concentrating power to fewer and fewer people.
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. I respect those who serve on our boards and commissions, even if I don’t always agree with them. It is a huge time commitment for no pay (although we recently approved small stipends). However, I think sometimes our boards and commissions are not forward thinking enough. If you haven’t read the book “Neighborhood Defenders” then you must. We know that these boards often have little diversity and that impacts discussion and votes. One BZA member said he didn’t vote for 2072 Mass Ave because he doesn’t like 9 story buildings. Our housing decisions should not be based on a person’s individual taste, but rather on what we need to do to solve our crisis. I also think that sometimes these discussions become to granular that we lose sight of the big picture. Rather than discussing if a window should go two inches to the left or right, lets remember that housing is about the people who live in that housing.
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 would. On one hand having multiple departments working together can be a strength, it can also be a challenge. Although you want everyone pulling in the same direction, it is often beneficial to have a designated department or person who is overseeing implementation. Sometimes saying “its everyone’s job” can turn into it being “no one’s job.” This is defiantly worth exploring.
Do you have anything else you’d like to highlight about your candidacy?
Anyone who has followed my work on the Council knows how important these issues are to me. I am not the type of person who just gives lip service to my support for housing, I fight for it. I put my neck out there and take the lumps. I make no apologies for wanting more housing and more affordable housing in Cambridge. Having a diverse population makes us stronger. When I graduated from CRLS there were over 50 languages spoken in our high school. That experience prepared me for the world far better then any class I took. I want to protect that diversity. That is the true “character” of our city and it is the responsibility of those of us who have more, to support those who have less. That is what community is all about.