(Approved by the A Better Cambridge board on December 7, 2021.)
The 100% Affordable Housing Overlay enacted in October 2020 is beginning to show results that surpass most predictions made at that time. There are currently four projects with over 350 apartments in the planning and design review stages. With over 21,000 households on affordable housing waitlists, and with housing prices and rents continuing to rise sharply – even during the pandemic – the success of the AHO is welcome news for every Cambridge resident who supports and prioritizes creating more affordable housing.
One of the key reasons the 100% Affordable Housing Overlay is so necessary is that without a streamlined by-right permitting process, affordable housing developments not only face the Herculean task of assembling enough funding sources to compete for expensive land, but must do it without even knowing for certain whether the development will be approved. It is critical that the by-right standards for affordable housing are sufficient to allow viable, high-quality developments that provide homes for people. Unfortunately, we have seen with 2072 Mass Ave what happens when that is not the case.
The Ordinance Committee and Planning Board will soon be weighing two zoning amendments that would make all four of the current AHO projects unviable. A Better Cambridge believes that we should be looking at ways to clarify, strengthen and expand upon what the AHO has begun. But the amendments proposed here would push our zoning law in the opposite – and wrong – direction.
Cambridge is in desperate need of more housing that is affordable to people with low and even average incomes. For decades, our zoning laws have constructed layers of interlocking barriers that have blocked the path to building more such housing. The current City Council voted 7-2 just a year ago, after a lengthy and vigorous citywide discussion, to lower some of those barriers for developments that could meet strict, enforceable conditions. Since then, our housing crisis has not gone away, and the AHO is just starting to do what it was designed to do. Cambridge must not undermine that progress just as it's beginning to happen. We urge the Ordinance Committee and the Planning Board to dispose of these amendments swiftly.