When Yi-An Huang ’05, Cambridge’s new city manager, takes over as city manager and the city council resumes regular meetings after the summer, councilors have once again targeted a contentious issue: multi-family housing.
On Tuesday, the council’s housing committee held a meeting where discussions resumed on allowing multifamily housing developments across the city.
Tuesday’s discussion revolved around the elimination of single and double family zoning to allow for more dense housing development. Much of the area west of Harvard Square is currently only one- and two-family homes for construction.
And on Wednesday night, five council members – Marc C. McGovern, Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui, Deputy Mayor Alanna M. Mallon, Paul F. Toner and Burhan Azeem – gathered at a virtual town hall meeting hosted by advocacy group A Better Cambridge to discuss the housing crisis the city.
Mallon told The Crimson that the “long overdue” local government reform talk “has had a few fits and I hope we can get it back on track and get the train out of the station right away”.
Cambridge councilors and policymakers have long recognized the seriousness of the housing shortage and the need to increase the city’s housing supply. However, according to Azeem, finding and implementing political solutions was easier said than done.
“Even if people agree that the current situation is bad, everyone can have different ideas about how the future can be made better,” he said in an interview on Wednesday.
Azeem also noted that detailed technical discussions about zoning can be lengthy, but said the council “will get to that this semester.”
He said he looks forward to the council “taking a lead” in removing restrictive zoning regulations.
Later this month, Huang and the council members will have a retreat to discuss the council’s working relationship with the city manager, as well as goals and priorities for the start of Huang’s tenure.
Toner said he hopes to identify three or four priorities to “focus on with the laser” and that housing-related issues “will definitely be high on the list.”
In November 2021, the council asked the city’s community development department and planning committee to “develop concepts and principles” to change the zoning code to allow for multifamily development.
Azeem said he thought the planning committee was “not particularly enthusiastic” about certain aspects of the proposal, but expressed optimism about the possibility of reaching a consensus.
Toner said he felt there was potential to improve communication and coordination between the council and other government agencies concerned with zoning and development, such as the Planning Board and the Board of Zoning Appeals.
“We need to have a better conversation with them about the city’s and city council’s goals for our housing initiatives,” Toner said.
Azeem also argued that Cambridge had an “ugly history” of using zoning regulations to “[push] Eliminate People of Color,” but that getting rid of restrictive zoning laws could be a step forward.
“I think that’s going to be the city council that’s going to end this story and allow for multi-family housing,” he said. “We will do everything in our power.”
– Staff writer Elias J. Schisgall can be reached at [email protected]