Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Affordable Housing Overlay zoning changes will most likely pass during the City Council meeting Monday. Despite the intense and passionate debates, by itself, AHO2 will not create significant nor immediate additional affordable housing. The ordinance proponents said so themselves. I’m certain next year at budget time or the year after, the council will say we are not doing enough to meet the demand for affordable housing, and it might well be true because some on the current council did not want to look more deeply at the issues.

The pressure-cooker, chaotic process created by a zoning ordinance with a looming expiration date pushed aside the ability to have a larger discussion of affordable-housing issues. Affordable housing fulfills a basic human need for shelter and contributes to the well-being of families, including reducing stress over displacement. The housing is important in maintaining the diversity of our community, its economic vitality by supporting our local workforce and helping seniors and persons with disabilities remain in our community. For these reasons and more, I support the city’s commitment to affordable housing. I do not support the amendments that increase height and remove setbacks as of right, though.

While many will be pleased that something has been done to potentially increase affordable-housing production when AHO2 passes, many will be disappointed with the potential negative impact on neighborhoods and quality of life that will result from taller, denser buildings. This is an important community conversation that needs to continue outside of a zoning ordinance process, and we need an opportunity to bring together different points of view, not further divide the community.

So, with the passage of AHO2, I am challenging the City Council to not let this issue fade into the background. While the topic is still fresh, I ask the council to adopt a policy order recommending an appropriate forum and process be established for developing a comprehensive affordable-housing and implementation plan that includes a middle-income housing strategy and a path to homeownership. This does not need to be a lengthy process, as there is much good, existing work to pull from. The Envision planning process from 2016 to 2018 was a good start, but the city needs more, including a clear articulation of our goals.

Please don’t let the passage of AHO2 end this conversation. If the city truly has affordable housing as one of its top priorities, it deserves much more thoughtful attention. Now is the time to begin that process.

Joan Pickett, candidate for Cambridge City Council