What is “affordable housing”? How is it built?

As an initial step, in 1998, Cambridge started requiring larger new housing developments to set below-market rents for 10%, and later 20%, of their homes. Because this applies only to buildings of at least 10 homes or 10,000 square feet, and because the zoning code strongly disfavors multi-family housing, this provision alone cannot solve our affordable housing deficit. 


The shortage has begun to impact households in the middle income range, but people in the lower ranges have (as usual) borne the brunt of this problem. Federal and state governments consider a housing unit “affordable” when it costs no more than 30% of the income of households making average incomes. Cambridge also has a huge shortage of deeply affordable housing, sometimes defined as affordable to households making 30% of the average income. The Cambridge Housing Authority primarily provides deeply affordable housing in Cambridge. ABC members have consistently advocated for large increases to the budget for deeply affordable housing in Cambridge, along with tenant protections and zoning changes.


For affordable housing, Tthe city has sought to swiftly and efficiently meet the urgent need for such housing by providing limited relief from some zoning restrictions for new developments of only affordable units, a permanent condition enforceable through deed restrictions.  


After years of extensive public debate, Council and Committee hearings, informational sessions organized by citywide groups and neighborhood associations, and about a dozen presentations/Q&A sessions led by the Community Development Department at locations across the city, the 2020 City Council found that our restrictive and exclusionary zoning regime was not meeting the city’s needs. They enacted a group of zoning amendments known as the 100% Affordable Housing Overlay (AHO, more details below). 


Members of A Better Cambridge believe that the 100% Affordable Housing Overlay put us on the right path, and now we need to right-size the overlay to properly address our need for affordable housing. Four City Councilors believe so, too, and have proposed a package of amendments that will expand and strengthen the 100% Affordable Housing Overlay (more details below).

We ask that you join us to help reduce the housing crisis that now afflicts Cambridge (see 'help' section below).