Patty Nolan

I have served the City of Cambridge as an elected official since 2005, first as a member of the School Committee, and since 2020 as a Councillor. My priorities are integrity and good governance, and they guide every policy decision I make. Before Council, I was a consultant in corporate strategy, for non profits, on employee ownership and ran an environmental company

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?

With my spouse, I own a two family in Cambridge which provides a NOAH, naturally occurring affordable housing for low income residents. We receive no subsidies from the city - and like other small landlords know that we fill an important part of the Cambridge housing landscape. We rent below market since we were lucky enough to buy a 2 family when we - on non profit salaries - could, which we couldn’t do today. I understand the market pressures for maintaining such units and see the effects of high housing costs on my two adult children. As a renter for many years in several cities I know the stress of yearly rent increases. My understanding of market issues, housing policies and city finances, along with my commitment to enact meaningful change has led me to support many initiatives aimed at increasing support and funding for affordable housing in the city.

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

As a City Councilor it’s important to convey the housing crisis honestly to our constituents and frame discussions of effective housing policies from both a local and a regional perspective. I have sought to get better data on the waitlists - how many of the 4400+ people on the waitlist who live in Cambridge are in dire need - meaning unhoused, in situations that are too crowded or dangerous - so we can prioritize getting them housed first. Our most vulnerable deserve to get housing first.
From a local Cambridge perspective I have been public about wanting us to tackle per unit costs: approaching $1 million /affordable housing unit. If we can bring that down to even $700K/unit we can house 30% more people, since funding is the limiting factor. Another priority is to secure more funding through a transfer fee and our increased linkage fee. I was the only councillor to propose housing on a site in West Cambridge for a model small (6-8 unit) home ownership opportunity - on city property. And I have advocated that the city buy property and have put forth a specific proposal for the large property recently purchased in West Cambridge. I urged the City Manager to conduct a comprehensive analysis of all city owned properties to see if other such opportunities exist and intend to follow through on its progress so it isn’t another useless filed report. We also need to monitor the city’s current policies for inclusionary housing and linkage fees to ensure that they are not too onerous and discourage development in Cambridge.

From a regional perspective a top priority is to get the state and other communities to do more. In the Boston Housing Report Card, Cambridge stands out for doing the most - alongside Boston. I have supported the transfer fee on property over $2m and will continue to work with the state on a home rule petition to be able to enact that legislation. The housing crisis is a regional one and Cambridge can’t solve it alone. We need to work with regional agencies to ensure that policies and funding are in place to ease housing costs and build more in the metro core, such as the MBTA Communities act to increase multi family housing in every community near transit stations.

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?

Generally Yes. Generally Yes. However, it depends on whether open space and green space would be compromised - in which case I could not. IN general, I support 4 story multi family as of right anywhere unless it compromises open space. Housing affordability is a complex ecosystem of many factors, so I would find it problematic to say that zoning policies alone are the culprit for high housing costs. And there is much evidence that reducing zoning regulations across the board in high demand areas such as Cambridge would actually raise land costs, acerbating an already problematic situation. But I believe there is still much in Cambridge we can do to foster the kind of growth we want to see and in the areas of the city we would like to see it. I was the lead sponsor to start the process to end single family housing in the city, and I continue to champion that. I have been pushing CDD to provide more comprehensive zoning policies based on need and opportunities in under represented neighborhoods. I was the first Councilor, with Jivan Sobrinho-Wheeler, to propose ending parking minimums and I have been a strong advocate for policies that lead to home ownership. Across the board policies, while expedient, distort impacts. Allowing more density across the entire city will mainly impact areas like East Cambridge and Cambridgeport which already are bearing the brunt of displacement and development.

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. Given the amount of market rate housing that the City of Cambridge has built without any impact on lowering housing costs I would not feel comfortable making that claim to our residents, because it hasn’t happened here. While the City can put in policies that help guide or slow development though our zoning laws, the council has no impact on market development which is mainly capital driven. If housing prices start to drop too much the market may simply stop building. If we increase exactions on development in Cambridge too high they will stop building here. There are many other important policy decisions that need to be enacted at the state or federal level to effectively stabilize housing costs. We cannot house everyone in Cambridge, and the key to dropping housing costs must include a regional plan. And, social housing and co-ops and land trusts must be part of the discussion and solution - more than building or incentivizing only market rate housing.

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, Cambridge needs to look at our existing codes around transit hubs and examine if we are getting the type of development we would like to see. I have been pushing the city to reexamine North Mass Ave from Harvard Square to the Arlington border as one such project that needs to be done. And as stated above, I was the first Councilor to propose ending parking restrictions. We already have one of the denest cities in the country, and can be even denser, but cannot solve this problem alone. I’m thrilled with the communities act and glad the state is holding communities not complying accountable. However, it all comes down to details and specifics .

Do you support the proposed Alewife overlay district?


Do you support also rezoning the Fresh Pond shopping center?

Generally Yes. As the councilor who proposed the moratorium in order to ensure that we put the work into zoning, I am very proud that we proved the naysayers wrong. The overlay is an excellent proposal - and shows that the community can come together to make good zoning changes. The city’s lack of focus and comprehensive policies has resulted in the over investment in highly lucrative commercial properties versus housing. Instead of letting the market dictate what happens in Alewife the building moratorium made sense and has meant that we - the council - working with the community - forced the city to put policies and zoning in place to incentivize housing. Unlike Alewife, which is in flux for both use and ownership, the Fresh Pond shopping center is currently private property. rezoing presents a different challenge when it is just one property currently operating in one way - can be done, should be done, but rezoning alone won’t necessarily yield any change without incentivizing types of development. I support working to get solar panels and more development there. If there was some interest to change ownership the city should certainly look at changing the zoning to encourage more housing. I also want to make sure that Eversource whose substation is not part of the Overlay, has all it needs to increase capacity to serve an all electric community in Alewife and the entire area surrounding alewife.

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. The amendments to the Affordable Housing Overlay are still being written and examined, so it’s impossible to give a simple yes or no answer. Are there squares or corridors in the city where such heights are appropriate? Yes, possibly. Are there squares and corridors across the entire city that should get that kind of height? Treating part of Concord Avenue with single and 2-family homes the same as Mass. AVenue is not appropriate. Envision corridors should be used to propose height differentiated by corridor.

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

No. We are already spending more than most cities. And not spending on other crises facing us - notably the climate crisis. I am open to more increases, and believe before deciding any set increase we need to have a citywide discussion of which areas of the city budget deserve more funds and which can be cut back. To do such a massive increase in housing, it would mean a decrease elsewhere. Through my leadership on the Finance Committee the City Council held the first ever public forums with the City Manager to help influence financial funding decisions which resulted in significant additional funding for affordable housing. Prior to my role on the Committee there were no such meetings. So yes, we must increase funding for affordable housing, but creating an arbitrary percentage to the budget may not be such a wise policy decision. And, we need a fund for climate and environmental justice - which is now drastically underfunded. That crisis deserves as much funding as housing. The city is spending upwards of $50 million on housing - which is more than almost every other city in the country on a per capita basis. We should celebrate and get other cities to match us.

How can Cambridge better protect tenants against displacement?

This question illustrates the limits of the powers of local government and hence the importance of framing housing discussions correctly. The Tenant Displacement Task Force never completed its work and is a great example of the city’s practice of filing away reports without using them to enact meaningful policies. We need to have some conversations and investigations on Rent Stabilization. There is much more work that should be done on this issue.

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, the city needs to continue its work on enacting tenant protections like eviction notifications, access to legal assistance, and educating renters of their rights. Mayor Wu’s proposal seems reasonable and should be explored for how it might work in the Cambridge context.

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

Generally Yes. This is another important national conversation that needs to be tailored to the conditions here in Cambridge. The research on urban infill and climate is not clear cut. And Cambridge already has higher density than most other cities cited in the works - which means the assumption in the question is not supported by the comparisons. The map of emissions per capita on the ABC reading list shows wide swaths of land in the country with far less density than Cambridge with fewer emissions per capita. Thus, urban density does not automatically mean lower emissions - the map also shows places like Schenectady and Syracuse in NY, with much lower densite with lower emissions - so we need to be careful in our assertions. Infill, while an aid to reducing GHG emissions for lower-density towns and cities, may not be appropriate for cities with density comparable to ours in Cambridge and doesn’t seem to yield the most emissions benefit. The California cities citing infill are not like Cambridge. So we should be sure that our policies for infill growth don’t impact parts of our city that trigger diminishing returns. There are significant issues that new construction have on our environment, especially if tearing down existing structures and generating certain building materials. And, infill that eliminates open space is counter to our environmental justice goals.

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

Generally Yes. I support a combination of at large and ward based. I was the Councilor who began our city’s first Charter Review process in 85 years by engaging the Collins Center and putting Charter Policies on the ballot in 2019. Currently the Charter Review Committee is expected to provide their recommendations to the city at the end of this year. They have been very active in soliciting residents’ perspectives and experiences for over a year while the Collins Center has provided them with various options for government formats. Once that report is presented the city can engage in a public conversation about the Committee’s recommendations. I believe that a system with a combination of at large and ward based seats is more democratic - so I currently support them. Boston and Somerville and Newton all have a combination - I don’t understand ABC’s opposition since democracy is at the core of good governance.

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 Not

Do you support the proposed NCD reforms specifically?

Generally Yes. I was instrumental in getting the Council to have some influence over the appointments for these boards and Commissions, for the first time in our history under Plan E. I led the effort to vote on charter changes - approved overwhelmingly by the voters. I don’t think those bodies need reform, since we have already reformed them by having council approval of members. We should expect diversity in its members, and we should also expect a certain amount of expertise and understanding for these important subjects. I believe that the boards and commissions generally have and had members with deep expertise, thoughtful approach and important diverse perspectives. The 2072 project asked for about 17 variance/changes and the Planning Board agreed with 16 - that is hardly being shot down. The NCD reforms being proposed now bring in needed changes that will make NCDs better. I support the changes proposed which are jointly agreed to by the working group. For the remaining two areas of conflict I support the Historical Commission’s wording.

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?

Generally I would support combining the housing efforts under one department. However, we should first know what cities have a better record and how they are organized. The premise that we don’t do enough is not based on facts. The Boston Housing Report Card report shows that Cambridge has produced far more housing than most, the share of renters who are rent burdened hasn’t increased in 20 years and and have a very high percent of residences that are subsidized. We recently hired a City Manager who has extensive experience in creating effectively functioning governing bodies and it’s important that we work to define goals and priorities in this and other areas. Of course Cambridge can do even more in housing. However, we need to be aware of how far we have come, and how many units of affordable housing we are producing. If every community had Cambridge’s record, the housing situation would be radically better.

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

I have a record of getting meaningful policies enacted along with the necessary funding sources, because I listen, bring in different perspectives, respect expertise from a range of experience and understand how the legislative system works. I look forward to working on the City Council to continue the important work that has already led to one of the region’s best levels of housing production. I also recognize that there are many priorities in the city and we should not be mirroring the national discourse of division. Like other challenges - affordable housing requires that we work together AND acknowledge that we cannot solve the issue alone. I also want to reiterate that housing should not be considered apart from our other needs that take funding and effort - from basic city operations to public safety to climate resilience to education for all ages.