What Will Cambridge's New Affordable Housing Overlay Do?

The policy is aimed at reducing the cost of building affordable housing and helping affordable housing developers to better compete on property acquisitions.

2 minute read

July 18, 2021, 7:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


Affordable housing

BrightFarm Systems / Wikipedia Commons

When the city of Cambridge passed its 100 Percent Affordable Housing Overlay (AHO) ordinance in October of 2020, supporters hoped it would "reduce affordable housing development costs by 10 to 15 percent per leasable square foot" and make it more possible to build affordable housing in the city. Andrew Gibbs analyzes the key provisions of the ordinance, which include a requirement that "at least 80 percent of rental dwellings (or 50 percent of for-sale dwelling units)" in a district " are dedicated to households making up to 80 percent of Area Median Income (AMI)" as well as exemptions related to height and density limits, parking requirements, and lot coverage. "The AHO removes off-street parking requirements, unless needed to conform to other laws," eliminating the need to build costly parking, which costs $25,752 per surface parking space in the Boston metro area.

"The AHO gives property owners the  'as-of-right' ability to develop affordable housing in Cambridge," a measure designed to "reduce execution risks and give lenders more confidence to provide land acquisition and pre-construction loans." Though the exact potential impacts are hard to quantify, the new provisions "should help affordable developers make competitive offers for developable land in Cambridge" and, if the reduction in development costs holds true at 10 to 15 percent, "the effect of the AHO should be an equivalent increase in affordable housing units built each year." While the AHO will not entirely solve Cambridge's housing issues, "the AHO has the potential to add a material number of new affordable homes and set a new industry standard for cities using comprehensive zoning tools alleviate affordability burdens."

Wednesday, June 30, 2021 in Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University

View of Mount Hood at golden hour with Happy Valley, Oregon homes in foreground.

Clackamas County Votes to Allow ADUs, Residential RVs

County officials hope the zoning changes will help boost the housing supply in the region.

June 18, 2024 - Mountain Times

Single-family homes in a suburban neighborhood in Florida.

New Florida Law Curbs HOA Power

The legislation seeks to cut down on ‘absurd’ citations for low-level violations.

June 16, 2024 - The Guardian

Aerial view of intersection in New York City with yellow cabs and zebra crosswalks.

Planners’ Complicity in Excessive Traffic Deaths

Professor Wes Marshall’s provocatively-titled new book, "Killed by a Traffic Engineer," has stimulated fierce debates. Are his criticisms justified? Let’s examine the degree that traffic engineers contribute to avoidable traffic deaths.

June 13, 2024 - Todd Litman

Close-up of red and white BUS LANE sign painted in street lane.

Why BRT Can Benefit Cities More Than Rail

Bus rapid transit lines offer a less expensive, quicker-build alternative to rail that can bring other infrastructure improvements with it.

8 seconds ago - Governing

Two-story homes on residential street in Surrey, British Columbia, Canada.

British Columbia Cracks Down on Short-Term Rentals

Provincial leaders say the new rules could open up as many as 19,000 units for long-term rental.

June 20 - CTV

Small backyard cottage with gabled roof in San Diego, California.

San Diego Sees Continued Growth in ADU Permits

Recent changes to regulations have made it easier and more affordable for homeowners to build ‘granny flats,’ and San Diego’s housing stock is benefiting.

June 20 - Axios San Diego

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Planning for Universal Design

Learn the tools for implementing Universal Design in planning regulations.