Action Alert: Demand more affordable housing

More than 21,000 people are waiting for a home they can afford in Cambridge, but the city still isn’t building enough.

When asked what affordable housing would mean to them, some of those 21,000 on the Cambridge Housing Authority waitlist said:

  • “Working just one job and being able to be more present in my children’s lives.”
  • “Affordable for me is not having to choose between food and a roof over my head.”
  • “It would mean the world to my family. We can have stability. We would have our own space instead of sharing a room.

On Wednesday, the City Council will hold its first hearing on amending and expanding the Affordable Housing Overlay - and we need your help in demanding they act!

  1. Please sign and share our petition to support expanding the AHO: link

  2. Then send an email to the City Council at [email protected] and [email protected] (please BCC [email protected]). The number of emails Council receives matters, so please send something, even if it’s just “Please expand the Affordable Housing Overlay”, and forward this to your friends. Feel free to include your personal housing experiences and priorities for extra impact.

  3. If you can, attend the Housing Committee hearing on Wednesday, February 8 at 12:30pm. Signup for public comment will be available here on Tuesday. (We know it’s unfair to ask for comments in the middle of a workday, but spoken comments are even more impactful than emails. If you have a story you want someone to read on your behalf, please email [email protected].)

For more information, please read our FAQ on expanding the Affordable Housing Overlay. But here are a few talking points:

  • The AHO is a 2020 zoning law that allows 100% affordable housing developments to be built more easily. So far, it has facilitated transitional housing for the formerly homeless, an expansion of public housing, housing near Danehy Park, and more, all with rigorous design review and community input. It’s doing great – but it needs to be scaled up.
  • Envision Cambridge (p153) set a goal of building 3,175 new affordable homes by 2030, but while increased linkage fees and the Affordable Housing Overlay are helping, we are not on pace to meet even that meager goal. Meanwhile, rents keep rising and affordable housing remains hard to find.
  • Currently, the AHO only allows a small number of sites to reach density levels high enough to be cost-effective for affordable housing. Even 2072 Mass Ave, which had the support of 7 City Councillors, failed because zoning was too restrictive.
  • The Affordable Housing Trust has looked into buying a number of sites recently, but without assurances of higher density they failed to make competitive bids for many. Most AHO developments have been on sites that were already in non-profit hands.
  • The proposed amendments would expand and strengthen the AHO by making more sites in every neighborhood of the city available for affordable housing, and increasing the number of affordable homes that could be built on those sites.

Expanding the Affordable Housing Overlay is a necessary and important step on the road to a more affordable, diverse, sustainable, and vibrant Cambridge. We also need more stable and substantial funding for affordable housing, stronger tenant protections, and significantly more production of unrestricted housing through ending exclusionary zoning and denser transit-oriented development. As other opportunities to support those things come up, we will keep you informed -- and as always, thank you for your support!