Patty Nolan on Affordable Housing

Do I support affordable housing?
YES! And I have the track record to prove it.

Can Cambridge build more housing and address affordability without the “development at all costs” approach many are promoting?
YES! Read on to understand my approach and thinking.

Affordable housing is an issue touching us all; either you can’t find housing in Cambridge that is affordable or you know someone who can’t. We’re losing diversity, and people with moderate incomes can’t afford to live here. Our current affordability units and programs – from inclusionary units to the $40+ million/year we put into our Affordable Housing Trust – make Cambridge one of the few Mass. cities building housing, both market rate and affordable. And it is still a crisis.

Solutions to the housing crisis are complex and often presented in ways that polarize people. That’s a problem because we need everyone to work together on solutions that serve the City as a whole.

My actions and the advocacy I pursue demonstrate support for affordable housing as well as a balanced and comprehensive approach:

  • I led a one-year moratorium on construction in the Alewife Quadrangle so rezoning could take place. This inclusive process means there will be much more housing in the Quadrangle.
  • I was the first councillor to propose ending parking minimums (adopted) and ending exclusionary single- and two-family zoning (not yet adopted).
  • I’m the only councillor who has proposed specific city-owned sites for affordable housing in West Cambridge, one of the Affordable Housing Overlay’s (AHO’s) as-yet unrealized goals.
  • I have voted to support some controversial projects (e.g., North Mass. Ave.) because I felt that on balance, and despite concerns, building the housing was beneficial overall.
  • I advocate for community-wide discussion about all our funding priorities, given that we already spend double the $20 million/year target for affordable housing set in the Envision plan. We need funding targets for housing as well as the opioid crisis, climate crisis, and unhoused/mental health crisis.
  • The city must serve people with different needs and levels of income, including our dwindling middle class. With Councillors Carlone and Toner, I proposed setting aside 20% of all AHO projects for middle income (voted down by other councilors).
  • Home ownership is a way to build equity and intergenerational wealth, one from which many have been excluded by past race-based policies and practices. I’ve advocated for increased focus on home ownership through limited equity co-ops.
  • I opposed the recent Affordable Housing Overlay amendment after proposing, with Councillors Carlone and Toner, changes to allow height increases – significant ones in the squares and on major corridors, and more limited increases elsewhere across the city – moderated in an effort to bring the community together. That proposal gave affordable housing developers all the flexibility they requested, yet it was voted down.
  • In addition to the concerns I heard about height and the elimination of all community oversight in the project approval process, I voted against the recent AHO amendment for reasons of process. Instead of waiting for the five-year review called for in the AHO when originally passed, major changes were proposed after only three and with no review to guide them; that’s irresponsible governance.
  • We need to control escalating per-unit costs, which on a recent project approached $1 million per unit, so we can build more units. (I have similar concerns on other City spending, too – school construction that’s far more costly than in nearby towns and land purchases that are a windfall for developers.)

We are all stakeholders in affordable housing, whether the situation affects our own housing or contributes to aspects of life in Cambridge that we value – diversity, quality of life, and aesthetics. Housing is a basic human right, and we need to do our part.

To learn about my thinking on other issues, here’s a discussion of my other priorities.

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