Preserving and Expanding Affordable Housing

Term One Achievements

As someone who grew up in Cambridge public housing, and would not be here without it, I am a strong advocate for increasing affordable housing. This is one important way to preserve the racial and socio-economic diversity that makes Cambridge such a unique place to live. It is essential work if we want to ensure that Cambridge is a place where both longtime families and newcomers can find affordable options. As Co-Chair of the Housing Committee, I approached the affordability crisis with urgency and creativity, through three lenses: protection, preservation, and prevention.

Increased Legal Aid Funding:

A necessary step toward increasing tenant protections is ensuring that our City is well-resourced and able to meet the high demand for legal aid assistance. One of my early successes this term was in securing a critical funding increase to the city’s legal aid services, enabling Cambridge and Somerville Legal Services (CASLS) to hire a new housing attorney, Jessica Drew. Her full-time role is to support those at risk for displacement and homelessness.

Preserving Existing Affordable Housing Stock:

Equally important is the preservation of existing affordable housing stock. For example, the affordability requirements of 505 units of the Fresh Pond Apartments are set to expire in December 2020. I’ve continued to promote transparent communication and move collaborative preservation measures forward.

I also advocated for greater funding to the Affordable Housing Trust through a local property transfer fee.

Initiating Eviction Data Collection:

In order to create tailored policy solutions to prevent tenant displacement, we need accurate eviction data. This term, I co-sponsored policy orders to collect and analyze detailed eviction data. Our initial findings can be found here. 

Preventing Tenant Displacement:

In 2019, I chaired the Mayor’s Blue-Ribbon Task Force on Tenant Displacement, which is charged with investigating the root causes of displacement—answering the question of where and why forced displacement is occurring—evaluating current policies, programs and practices, and developing bold alternatives where necessary, thereby addressing the imperative need for stronger, more immediate tenant protections. Its recommendations for policy change and resource allocation will provide critical guidance to the City Council and City Manager’s Office on mitigating the effects of housing instability on our City, and realizing the future of Cambridge as affordable, inclusive and desirable for all.

The Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Task Force on Tenant Displacement is analyzing the impact of condo conversions on tenant displacement, and is investigating possible modes for strengthening tenant protections. To this end, we sought a legal opinion on home rule options for strengthening condo conversion regulations. While it was concluded that a home rule petition authorizing Cambridge to more strongly regulate condo conversion would likely be struck down, I will continue exploring other options to protect Cambridge tenants from displacement due to condo conversion. 

I supported the City Manager’s development of a City Housing Liaison position. This role will support clients at risk of displacement; work with affordable housing providers, landlords and management companies to support stable tenancies; and serve as a point person for the city when there are threats of multiple-tenant evictions.

I pressed the Cambridge Community Development Department to improve its processes for collecting and interpreting eviction data, promoting transparency in commercial real estate transactions.

Ongoing Efforts

I will continue fighting to preserve and expand affordable housing by advocating for:

  • The creation of an Office of Housing Stability, because I believe the more structure we have around these issues, the better. It keeps them in our budgets and provides needed resources to residents.

  • Increasing Cambridge’s commercial linkage fee, which requires large new non-residential developments that receive special permits to build affordable housing or make contributions to the Affordable Housing Trust.

  • Adding an additional 5% inclusionary zoning requirement for middle income households and families, including 2 and 3 bedroom units.

  • Adopting a local transfer tax on real estate transactions over a certain size with proceeds earmarked for affordable housing initiatives.

  • Negotiating with our universities to build affordable housing for their students.