Affordable Housing Roundtable

City Leaders Come Together to Talk Affordable Housing


This week's City Council meeting was replaced by a roundtable discussion between the City Councillors, the Cambridge Housing Authority, City Manager Rich Rossi, and the Affordable Housing Trust. To keep Cambridge affordable and diverse, certain properties receive the designation “affordable housing”. Through inclusionary zoning, developers are required to develop a certain number of affordable units whenever a new project is begun. This roundtable was convened to discuss concerns with the creation of new affordable housing, as well as the preservation of the current units available.

The current strategy for the affordable housing in Cambridge is divided into three categories: the preservation of existing units, the development of new affordable housing, and the conversion of locations currently used for other purposes into housing. As many of us understand, this task is not as simple as it appears to be on paper. Constructing new affordable housing has triggered debate about where the new buildings would be located, as many neighborhoods have been resistant to increasing population density, or changing the makeup of the area.

The concern about members of the Council prioritizing not agitating constituents over aggressively pursuing new affordable housing developments was put on the table. The Council, however, refuted this, and agreed that none of them would consider a potential loss of votes as a deterrent for any affordable development project, displaying their commitment to the cause over the long haul.

During the meeting, it was evident that tough choices would have to be made going forward. The city will have to sacrifice other important things that are not as much of a priority as affordable housing to make progress. One example was the conversion of a number of lots in Central Square to affordable housing. While no one wants to see Central Square lose parking, the Council agreed that this was a case where a tough call should be made in favor of more affordable housing.

Particular weight was also given to who gets priority for rental applications for affordable housing units. Of great concern were families with young children, and city workers who moved from Cambridge due to rising costs. All parties agreed any legislation written should ensure Cambridge residents and at-risk families are prioritized in the application process, while households in urgent need that do not completely fit the criteria are also served as well.

The point was also brought up the that more concrete data is needed before more progress can be made. This will be helped by the decision for a long term vision for Cambridge, as knowing which questions need to be asked will help us secure the data we need to continue work on this issue.

Ultimately, the prevailing mood by the end of the evening was one of a breakthrough. Going forward, all parties have a clearer sense of the direction Cambridge needs to move in order to remain the diverse, vibrant city it has historically been.

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