I am a lifelong Cambridge resident who grew up in Cambridge affordable housing at the Rindge Towers and Roosevelt Towers. After graduating from Cambridge Public Schools, I attended Brown University and Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, and became a legal aid attorney. I have led the RISE UP program expansion this year expanding $500/month over 18 months for almost 2000 families. I established the universal pre-k working group this term that has led to reaching our goal of free preschool for all 4 year olds and some 3 years starting in 2024. I have also worked to establish early college at CRLS and a community college fund called Cambridge Promise.
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 grew up in Cambridge affordable housing at the Rindge towers, now known as Fresh Pond Apartments, and then in 5th grade moved to Roosevelt Towers mid-rise in Wellington-Harrington/East Cambridge, where my parents still live. This personal experience, specifically in Cambridge, has shaped my decision to run for city council and keep running. I am often working with residents in public or subsidized housing and have built many important relationships that have shaped my policy work. I was able to buy a condo in Cambridgeport in November 2018.
As City Councillor, what would be your top priorities to address our housing crisis?
As a city councillor, my top priorities to address our housing crisis align with what is in our Envision Cambridge plan. I would prioritize City and other public property that is available for disposition to develop housing, and acquire any property (e.g like we have from Lesley University) to help more affordable housing. Another priority would be to increase existing City funds and explore options for new revenue sources and support for dedicated affordable housing. I am also very much interested in supporting legislative and other efforts to improve protections for tenants at risk of displacement. I am in favor of changing zoning to enable more housing, especially more affordable housing, to be built along major corridors, squares, and in other areas that have the capacity to accommodate growth and are well served by transit. Other ideas that have emerged are municipal vouchers and having an affordable housing bond to build more affordable housing.
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. We must do everything we can to reduce regulatory barriers that limit the market’s ability to build small, lower-cost homes on expensive land.There is extensive research that shows small-scale multi-family housing like triple-deckers, four-plexes, and six-plexes can improve affordability. Additionally, we know city-wide zoning reforms would then help increase supply of housing, while also making those communities financially accessible to many more families. I am hopeful the council can keep working to address housing affordability through ending exclusionary zoning, and reforming the zoning code.
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. Our inclusionary units in market rate developments have been a key way for us to keep residents in the city. I will say that the market rate rents at some of the “luxury” buildings in Cambridge range from $3500 for a studio to $4095 for a one bedroom are well out of reach for many. This is the range at Park 151. I think about the widening economic inequality in our city, and how difficult it is for those who have middle-income incomes to afford any of these market rate developments, so I am glad we have a middle income inclusionary program. There is definitely a greater need for those earning at or below 80 percent AMI.
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. I fully support more transit-oriented development. There are a number of concerns with how reliable the MBTA is, but overall the impact of transit-oriented development is important.
Do you support the proposed Alewife overlay district?
Do you support also rezoning the Fresh Pond shopping center?
Yes. The City Council was intentional with putting together a working group for this area, and ultimately, I agree with the recommendations. The shopping center area is ripe for more residential development, and I am exciting about the potential opportunities there.
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 do think that there have been a range of discussions on whether 15 and 12 are feasible for the affordable housing developers given the costs. I view the overlay as one important tool to address our housing crisis.
Do you support further increasing city funding for affordable housing to 10% of the City budget?
Yes. There are some revenue sources that are legislative dependent like the real estate transfer fee, so I think it is critical we look at our own city funding, and have a plan to increase funding for affordable housing given the rising costs.
How can Cambridge better protect tenants against displacement?
We need to continue supporting our nonprofits and Multi-Service center to help residents with housing stability and housing search services. Making sure tenants have access to information is also key, which is why we enacted the Tenants Rights and Resources Ordinance. One of the task force recommendations was to establish a more permanent, funded partnership with Alliance of Cambridge Tenants (ACT) to continue providing these services and building its organizing capacity in perpetuity. Last term, we were able to provide funding to ACT, and the goal is to continue supporting them. We have to continue to work with our property owners to reduce the number of actions taken against tenants that result in eviction-related court filings. In cases when a housing entity must take legal action against a tenant, it is most often on account of non-payment of rent and does not result in a physical eviction. However, any eviction-associated court filing, regardless of outcome, can be a long-term liability for a renter and may prevent a tenant from securing necessary housing in the future. Encouraging the City and its housing providers to reduce the number of actions is very important. Other strategies include expanding homelessness prevention services, including emergency resources and support, legal and mediation services and foreclosure prevention counseling. In the end, there are a multitude of strategies and they all go hand and hand. While one of the recommendations from the reports was to adopt a City Condominium Conversion Ordinance that “updates” and strengthens the state condominium law in the service of Cambridge tenants, after a number of conversations with the City and some advocates, I don’t think this will actually do anything as effective to prevent displacement.
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?
I am supportive of any city tenant protections that can lead to less displacement. My office receives calls from so many tenants whose landlord has increased their rent by thousands of dollars/month. Having rent stabilization would be a start. I think a future council must consider a home rule petition to at least start the conversation.
Do you believe we have a climate obligation to pursue greater density city-wide and allow more people to live here?
Yes. We have a housing and climate crisis. I don’t believe because we are adding more density, our neighborhoods are less livable. We can be thoughtful about how we plan for greater density city-wide. There was an article by Brookings Institute titled “We can’t beat the climate crisis without rethinking land use.” The article discussed low-density development practices stating “low-density neighborhoods require more physical capital per person, meaning more building materials and emissions to manufacture concrete, asphalt, piping, and other material inputs. All that concrete and asphalt radiate heat back into the atmosphere and can reduce public health due to higher temperatures. The same impervious surfaces also lead to water resource challenges such as greater stormwater runoff and flash flooding. In the most extreme situations, sprawling development moves into areas prone to flooding or forest fires.” On the other hand, higher-density development offers the better option to manage growth while protecting clean air and water by placing new developments in areas where the most infrastructure already exists to manage air and water quality. If more housing in Cambridge is achieved by relaxing exclusionary zoning laws and prioritizing high-density housing development, it will have a vast positive impact on the environment.
Do you favor an at-large system over a ward-based system?
Yes. I support the reasons that ABC has to oppose at-large proportional representation. As someone who lives in Ward 5, but has a strong constituency in North Cambridge because of growing up there, it would be challenging not to be a strong voice for those renters.
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 do support the NCD reforms because the goal is to strike a balance between the need for more housing and historic preservation. So many barriers to building housing exist. Given that the current ordinance was drafted over 40 years ago, I am supportive of ways to reform the rules and update the ordinance. I appreciate the work that has gone into this effort.
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?
While I support the Office of Housing Liaison, I think there should be some changes made to the structure of the Housing Division within the Community Development Department and the Multi-Service Center. I think it can be confusing for residents to figure out who to go to help because everything is scattered across different departments. I don’t doubt that important work happens on a daily basis, but I wonder how we can be more effective. We have constituent services and policy making happening across all departments. I don’t have specific recommendations but would be willing to have more conversations about this. One way to hold the City Manager and city staff accountable for meeting housing goals would be to incorporate SMART goals within the City Manager’s goal setting process and evaluation.
Do you have anything else you’d like to highlight about your candidacy?
I would like to highlight the tenant advocacy work my office was a part of this term. At the end of January 20 22, Vice Mayor Mallon and I sent a letter to the Affordable Housing Trust outlining our concerns regarding WinnCompanies’ property management at Walden Square, raised to us by current residents. Our concerns included egregious and unresolved pest infestation issues, a lack of appropriate communication from management to residents, and an environment of intimidation and suggestion that residents should leave if they are dissatisfied. This was in anticipation of WinnCompanies’s request to the Affordable Housing Trust for funds to support Walden Phase 2, which they presented as creating much needed deed-restricted additional affordable housing units for families. Following that letter, my office hosted three meetings with high level WinnCompanies management and four meetings to hear directly from residents. A lot of progress has been made including but not limited to: In 2022, 7 units were renovated, in 2023, 50 units are planned for renovation; 4 units have been converted to ADA and 4 more are in process; communications to residents have been translated into English, Spanish, Haitian Creole, Somali, Amharic and Arabic languages, and an iPad installed outside the office to assist with translation for residents; reimbursements totaling $20,799.99 have been made to 3 households to address losses caused by management’s neglect (repeated pest treatment, mold, leaks); additional extermination services were contracted and currently out of 240 Units at Walden Square on average, 31 have pest issues, this is comparable with other large properties in the area.
Another area I have worked on is pushing for improvements to our affordable housing homeownership process. Specifically, many residents have expressed concern about the resale formula and inheritance policy. There will be specific recommendations that come before the City Council later this fall/early winter.
Finally, the Vice Mayor and I had a series of meetings on the feasibility of creating a new fully municipally funded voucher program. We submitted a policy order requesting that the City Manager work with the Cambridge Housing Authority, CDD, and the Housing Liaison’s office to explore how we could have a similar program to Somerville or Boston. Many residents end up doing a section 8 voucher in order to be in inclusionary housing.