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Rezoning Every Residential Neighborhood in Cambridge for Affordable Apartment Buildings

Cambridge, Massachusetts has opened all residential neighborhoods to the development of apartments buildings with 100 percent affordable units. It might be the most "sweeping attack on elitist and racist single family zoning" in the country.
October 13, 2020, 5am PDT | James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell
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Cambridge, Massachusetts
Stephen Orsillo

"Cambridge, Massachusetts made history last [week]," reports Randy Shaw. "The City Council enacted a 100% citywide affordable housing overlay (AHO) that should become a new national model for high-rent cities."

"The AHO opens up four story affordable apartments to all neighborhoods. Six and seven stories are allowed in business districts," explains Shaw.

The influence of Cambridge's action is already spreading in the immediate area around Boston: "Cambridge’s AHO is already influencing neighboring Somerville, which may already have the political support to pass a similar measure. Newton, which strongly backed a new housing development in a March 3, 2020 referendum, is also considering AHO-type legislation."

Another article by Adam Sennott reports the news, providing other pertinent details.

The overlay district will allow incremental increases in density, limited increases in height and relaxation of other zoning limitations for residential developments in which all units are made permanently affordable to households earning up to 100% of area median income. At least 80% of the units within an AHO project must be occupied by households whose gross household income upon initial occupancy is no more than 80% of the area median income, according to the policy order passed at Monday’s council meeting.

Rent, including utilities and any other routine fees, cannot exceed 30% of the gross household income of the AHO eligible household. Households can continue to rent units even if their income exceeds eligibility requirements as long as their income does not exceed 120% of the area median income.

Yet another article by Dan Eisner explains the advocacy efforts that made the historic-making AHO possible, giving credit to both organizations who built the political movement and the politicians who "bravely supported" the AHO. "In the world of housing activism, opponents of new housing never rest. They like their neighborhoods the way they are and often have lots of time on their hands," writes Eisner. "They usually win. But not this time."

The AHO now joins a growing roster of legislative actions to relax the restrictions of single-family zoning in the country, following the lead of city of Minneapolis and the state of Oregon, and the city of Portland more recently. Voters in the California city of Alameda will have a chance to end single-family zoning by referendum in November.

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Published on Tuesday, October 6, 2020 in Wicked Local
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