AHO Hearing Recap - thank you!

Last Wednesday (February 8), the Housing Committee of the Cambridge City Council held a hearing to discuss expanding the Affordable Housing Overlay. THANK YOU to everyone who emailed the City Council, spoke at public comment, or shared our petition or our FAQ page with friends or neighbors.

We’re grateful to Councillor Simmons for chairing an efficient and powerful hearing (recording available here). First, Councillors McGovern, Azeem, and Zondervan presented the proposed amendments (see their prepared slides here). Then, affordable housing developers including the Cambridge Housing Authority, Just-A-Start, and Homeowners’ Rehab expressed their support for the proposed amendments and explained how the amendments would help them build more and higher-quality affordable housing.

  • For instance, Just-A-Start’s Broadway Park could not proceed under the current Affordable Housing Overlay, and has recently lost its state funding due to being in limbo for too long.
  • CHA’s Jefferson Park Federal has proceeded under the current AHO, but these proposed amendments would have allowed them to build 16 more affordable homes, while saving money and providing more open space.
  • Both JAS and HRI said that while the certainty provided by the AHO has enabled them to more confidently bid on potential new sites for affordable housing, they have not yet been able to secure one, and the proposed amendments would make their bids significantly more competitive.

After the discussion by affordable housing developers, the committee took public comment. Pro-housing voices had a good showing, stressing both the technical reasons that these amendments are needed and the power of affordable housing to change lives. (As one commenter put it: “I know now that the life my parents built in this country, the life they built for me, was made possible by affordable housing. [...] I support affordable housing because it is a part of my story, and I want it to be a part of 21,000 more stories.") However, not everyone was supportive, with many opponents complaining of insufficient process and one person simply saying “I don’t think we need to impose all these people on those of us who have lived here for years and years”.

You can read more in The Harvard Crimson here: Cambridge Council Housing Committee Discusses Affordable Housing Expansion Plan

Next Steps

The next hearing will be March 8th at 3:00pm, at which point Housing Committee members will discuss their opinions on the amendments and hopefully vote to send them forward to the full City Council for further hearings*.

There will not be public comment on March 8th, so the most impactful way you can make a difference between now and then is to continue to share our petition and our FAQ page with your friends and neighbors, participate in public conversations, email City Council if you haven’t, get in touch if you have questions or want to help us organize**, and stay tuned for future emails.

Thanks so much!

*There will likely also be a Neighborhood and Long Term Planning Committee hearing on the AHO later in March. It will have public comment, but it has not been scheduled yet.

**We will have a working group meeting this Thursday evening at 6pm - contact Neil Miller if interested.

P.S. Applications to serve on Cambridge’s powerful Planning Board are now open until Monday, March 6. The Planning Board has discretionary approval authority over almost all large new developments in Cambridge, and gives advisory opinions on all zoning changes. Please consider applying!