Moving Forward After the Affordable Housing Overlay Vote

During my first term as a City Councilor, Cambridge residents have often come to me expressing legitimate concerns about the affordable housing crisis. The single mothers in need of emergency housing, Section 8 tenants unable to enjoy the security afforded by a lease, and the middle-class families worried that a rent bump could displace them demonstrate that the housing situation has become dire for too many people. While I have done everything I can to serve as a resource for those in need, a lone Councillor is not enough to properly address the underlying causes of skyrocketing housing costs. The only way to create a meaningful, lasting solution to the affordable housing crisis is through systemic change.

It is this imminent need for systemic change that makes the Affordable Housing Overlay vote so frustrating. On Monday night, the City Council failed to reach the necessary six votes to pass the Housing Overlay, and the initiative was tabled. After months of thoughtful debate, hearing from passionate residents, and collaboration between Mayor McGovern and myself to propose amendments remedying many environmental and financial concerns about the Overlay, it is disheartening that a measure that had promising potential to improve the lives of many members of our community could not earn a super-majority of support from the Council. Although this does not constitute a “negative action”, which would prevent further discussion of the proposal for 2 years, it does mean that action will not be taken this term, ensuring that any kind of systematic zoning reform – a critical piece of the solution to our housing crisis – is delayed. The Housing Overlay was not perfect, but it was a start, a step in the right direction for the countless Cambridge residents facing sleepless nights and depleted savings due to the looming possibility that they will not be able to afford to live in the city we love.

Nevertheless, the failure to pass the Housing Overlay does not mean our efforts were in vain. The dialogue around affordable housing created by the Overlay continues, and shows no signs of ending with this vote. In fact, I hope to expand on this dialogue in the next Council term. The City needs to do a better job from the start of the process about communicating the real impacts of the Overlay and who would benefit from it. Over the last 8 months of this community-wide conversation, my role as Councillor was to ensure that residents understood this proposal and why it was desperately needed, and to advocate on behalf of our most vulnerable populations. At the same time, I was in constant communication with our nonprofit partners, housing advocates, and residents to be a leader in introducing amendments that would refine the Overlay proposal and make it the best fit for implementation in Cambridge. I also believe that our community has yet to have the critical racial equity discussion of the history of exclusionary zoning, how it continues to contribute to disparate economic outcomes for people of color, and policies to remedy this injustice; in order for us to reform our Zoning Ordinance, all residents should understand their responsibility and own stake in this process.

I look forward to contributing to these conversations both within the Council’s Housing Committee and beyond, should I be given the opportunity to serve another term as a City Councillor. My commitment to ensuring that Cambridge is a place where anyone can live, grow, and thrive without the fear of displacement, and ensuring the affordable housing crisis is addressed in an environmentally, fiscally, and socially conscious way has only strengthened. For as long as I have the privilege of serving on the City Council, I will advocate for every Cambridge resident’s access to safe, high-quality, affordable housing.