Affordable Housing Overlay improvements

(Sent Nov 20, 2022.)

Several years ago, ABC successfully fought for passage of an Affordable Housing Overlay (AHO) in Cambridge. We knew that this zoning change alone wouldn't solve our long-standing housing shortage, but we also knew that creating a streamlined process with relaxed dimensional standards for 100% affordable housing developments could make a big difference. It is an idea that has been recognized nationally and adopted in other cities. We’re happy that the AHO’s first two years have seen six sites applying for AHO permits, with four completing their review requirements, for a potential total of over 400 new affordable homes. Even many who opposed it at the time now applaud it today.

The City Council is now weighing revisions to the zoning code to strengthen and expand the 2020 AHO. Councilors Azeem, McGovern, Simmons and Zondervan have proposed changes that would allow:

  1. more height along "AHO corridors" – specifically, up to 13 stories of affordable housing by-right along listed streets, including Mass Ave, Mem Drive, Cambridge St, Mt. Auburn St, and others. This would allow proposals like 2072 Mass Ave to succeed, and would ensure that every neighborhood of the city has sites where affordable housing can be built at sufficient scale to be financially viable.
  2. significantly more height in "AHO squares" – specifically, up to 25 stories of affordable housing by-right in Central, Harvard, Porter, and the "Webster Square" auto-shop area north of Cambridge St near the Union Square T. This would allow significantly more transit-oriented affordable housing like the Manning Apartments.
  3. greater flexibility to encourage more open space. AHO developments that provide more-than-required open space would be allowed to take their sacrificed building bulk and put it into increased height. This would have allowed more housing for the formerly homeless to be built at 116 Norfolk St, and would have improved the site plan of Jefferson Park.

Discussion of these ideas will begin at Monday’s City Council meeting, but there are already prominent voices calling it “outrageous” to seek to provide housing opportunities to “minorities, [some of whom] are not current Cambridge residents.” There will be future occasions to dig into the details, but for now, if you would like to thank the City Council for introducing this proposal and encourage them to have a serious and efficient conversation about it, you can email [email protected] or sign up to comment on Monday evening. With your help, Cambridge will continue taking down the barriers that prevent production of the housing we need.