Affordable housing partial victory on linkage fee

(Sent Tuesday, October 18th, 2022.)

Last night, the Cambridge City Council finally ordained into law an increase in the city's "linkage fee" - a fee that developers of commercial buildings like labs and office buildings pay into the city's Affordable Housing Trust to partially compensate for the impact that new jobs have on our affordable housing crisis. The fee was previously approximately $20/sqft; now it is $33/sqft.

A Better Cambridge has been advocating for this change for over a year (see our initial statement and a subsequent action alert we sent), ever since it was first suggested by former City Councilor Jivan Sobrinho-Wheeler, and we’re glad that it has finally been unanimously enacted. This will likely lead to tens of millions more dollars for affordable housing in the coming years, and it’s great that the Council is already talking about laying the legal foundations for increasing the fee even further. 

However, we are also disappointed that, even as the Council took two steps forward, they took one step back. Despite our opposition, warnings from the Community Development Department, and the opposition of the Affordable Housing Trust, the Council voted 5-to-4 to allow developers to deduct unlimited demolished-and-rebuilt floor area from their assessed building sizes, which will mean an unknown but significant decrease in the amount of money that will be raised by this fee increase. Councilors Azeem, Carlone, Nolan, Simmons and Toner voted in favor of this deduction; Mayor Siddiqui, Vice Mayor Mallon, and Councilors McGovern and Zondervan voted against it. You can find contact info for individual councilors to thank and/or express your disappointment in them here.

Thank you to everyone who has written or testified in support of an increased linkage fee over the past year! Building more affordable housing is an absolute necessity for the City’s inclusivity and for tens of thousands of families’ well-being, and as costs keep rising, we need every dollar we can get. We’re going to keep pushing the Council to monitor the effects of this fee and to increase the money they spend on affordable housing, through the linkage fee as well as through budget allocations.

P.S. Three upcoming opportunities you may be interested in:

  1. This Wednesday at 1:00pm, the Neighborhood and Long Term Planning Committee will hear a presentation from the Community Development Department regarding the Our Cambridge Street planning study. Some ABC members who have been tracking this process have concerns about the plan’s failure to meet the moment’s housing needs; we hope to share more in the coming weeks. You can email comments to [email protected] or sign up for public comment here.

  2. This weekend, ABC is canvassing in support of Yes on 1 - the Fair Share Amendment. Saturday canvasses (Oct 22) are at 11am and 2pm in the Port. Sunday canvasses (Oct 23) are at 2pm and 5pm in North Cambridge. You’ll be able to hand out information about housing and ABC alongside talking to new voters about funding for public transportation and education. Plus, we are also planning to do voter registration on Monday and Tuesday (October 24 and 25). To sign up to help, fill out this form!

  3. At next week’s Monday City Council meeting, we are hoping the Council will finally ordain the removal of parking minimums from Cambridge’s zoning code. Again, you can email your support to [email protected] or sign up for public comment when it opens at the end of this week.