Friday, June 14, 2024

The three-year-old Affordable Housing Overlay zoning got a boost in height Monday to 12 stories along Cambridge’s main corridors and 15 stories in Central, Harvard and Porter squares. Many expect the impact of this to be limited.

How do we create better outcomes for a flawed ordinance? 

First, we must preserve our squares and corridors to the standards and characters that our neighborhoods desire. We can build with the support of our communities by appealing to neighborhoods with more trees and open spaces that can only improve the quality of life of our new residents. Building even taller buildings at the easier-to-build places will reduce the cost of the new units more than forcing them on our squares and some stretches of our corridors.

Secondly, we should include commercial builders, allowing mixed-use buildings that include a good portion for market rates. We have a limited capacity to build, and Cambridge is not known for producing large quantities of housing units quickly. If we are limited to nonprofit builders, we will not fulfill the promise of the AHO or the Envision Cambridge planning process.

Lastly, we need to address the broader issues facing our city. Gentrification is already happening, though incomplete. Our teachers, scientists, researchers, police, medical staff and young college graduates all need housing. Many of them are forced to leave Cambridge and live elsewhere. Reducing the percentage of affordable-housing units to less than 25 percent of a build, coupled with increasing the threshold to apply for housing assistance, can help them to live and work here and mix with our low-income population, which in turn will generate more jobs and opportunities for our low-income population, ultimately contributing to the eradication of poverty in our city.

The AHO amendments, however well intended, were created with little operational experience or impact analysis and essentially no implementation planning. The new council should work together to turn it into a net positive for our city.

Hao Wang, candidate for Cambridge City Council