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100%-Affordable Housing Zoning Overlay

The idea for an 100%-Affordable Housing Zoning Overlay grew out of discussions with the City Council and Housing Committee to consider policy changes to address the housing crisis. The goal of the 100%-Affordable Housing Zoning Overlay is to help affordable housing developers, using public funds, create new affordable units more quickly, more cost effectively, and in areas where there are fewer affordable housing options for residents.

Affordable housing developers often cannot compete with market-rate developers who can afford to pay more for land and buildings. There are also areas of the city where current zoning makes the creation of new affordable housing infeasible. Allowing affordable housing providers to build more densely than market-rate developers will create opportunities in these neighborhoods. Affordable housing developers have also faced long and costly permitting challenges delaying their ability to complete new affordable units. Streamlining the approval process for new 100%-affordable housing will help reduce development costs and allow affordable housing providers to create new affordable units more quickly while using public funding more effectively.

The idea was advanced during the Envision Cambridge city-wide planning process. The Envision Cambridge Housing Working Group recommended it as one of their proposed strategies to expand affordable housing opportunities across the city.

The City Council’s Housing Committee expressed interest in considering this idea further. In late 2018 and early 2019, Community Development staff worked to develop the concept so that detailed discussions with the City Council and community could take place.

Throughout the first half of 2019, a series of public hearings and community meetings were convened to discuss and consider the proposed 100%-Affordable Housing Overlay.  This included meetings of the Housing Committee, Planning Board, and Affordable Housing Trust (see below for links to meeting notes and materials).

In addition, Community Development staff hosted a series of open houses on the 100%-Affordable Housing Zoning Overlay proposal. Staff from the Community Development Department were available at these drop-in sessions to answer questions and discuss the proposal.

At the request of the Housing Committee, CDD prepared a zoning amendment for consideration by the City Council.  The zoning petition was discussed at several meetings by the Ordinance Committee, and amended to incorporate changes made by the Ordinance Committee and to reflect recommendations put forth by the Planning Board.  Both the Ordinance Committee and the Planning Board voted to forward the amended petition to the City Council for consideration. 

The zoning petition expired on September 30, 2019. 

In early 2020 a new zoning petition was filed to establish an 100%-Affordable Housing Zoning Overlay.  Both the Ordinance Committee and Planning Board will hold public meetings as each considers the petition and makes recommendations to the City Council. Public hearings on this petition were delayed due to COVID-19, and are scheduled to begin July 2020.  

2020 Meeting Schedule

Ordinance Committee – July 8, 2020

Ordinance Committee – July 22, 2020 (This meeting is cancelled)

Planning Board – August 4, 2020

Ordinance Committee – August 19, 2020 

For updates and information, subscribe to the 100%-Affordable Housing Overlay Mailing List.

Additional Information

For information from past meetings and materials related to the 100% Affordable Housing Overlay proposal and zoning petition, please see below.  More information on the 2019 and 2020 zoning petition can be found here.

2020 Zoning Petition

Community Development Department Memo - July 28, 2020 (Revised)

Affordable Housing Overlay Design Guidelines - July 28, 2020 (updated from 2019)

Affordable Housing Overlay Zoning Comparison Table - July 28, 2020 (updated from 2019)

Ordinance Committee Presentation Slides 7/8/20

Community Development Department Memo 7/1/2020

Zoning Maps and Charts 7/1/2020

Prototypical Site Models 7/1/2020

Affordable Housing Zoning Overlay Petition (as referred 6/10/2020)

Supporting Material from Councillor McGovern (2/20/2020) 

2019 Zoning Petition

Planning Board Report, 9/4/19 (September 2019)

Affordable Housing Zoning Overlay Petition, Recommended Text from Ordinance Committee 9/3/19 (September 2019)

Draft Design Guidelines for 100% Affordable Housing Overlay, updated 8/29/19 (August 2019)

Affordable Housing Zoning Overlay Petition, updated 8/29/19 (August 2019)

Affordable Housing Overlay Zoning Proposal - Comparison Charts, updated 8/29/19  (August 2019)

Supplemental Information Re: Affordable Housing Overlay Zoning Petition 8/29/19 - Memo to Ordinance Committee (August 2019)

Planning Board – draft report 8/27/19 (August 2019)

Draft Design Guidelines for 100% Affordable Housing Overlay, 7/29/19 (July 2019)

Presentation to Ordinance Committee 7/2/19 (July 2019)

Presentation to Planning Board 6/25/19 (June 2019)

Response to City Council Policy Order 6/21/19 (June 2019)

Affordable Housing Overlay (AHO) Zoning Petition 6/20/19 – Memo to Planning Board (June 2019)

  • Comparison Charts. This document compares the use and development standards of Cambridge base zoning districts with the standards in the proposed 2019 Affordable Housing Overlay (AHO).
  • Prototypical Site Models. With the support of design consultants HFMH Architects, CDD has worked to create conceptual site models based on the 2019 Affordable Housing Overlay (AHO) zoning petition.

Affordable Housing Zoning Overlay Petition (as referred by Housing Committee April 2019)

Additional Background Material

Revised Draft Text for Affordable Housing Zoning Overlay (April 2019) 

Affordable Housing Zoning Overlay Proposal - Consolidated List of Frequently Asked Questions (April 2019)

Affordable Housing Zoning Overlay Proposal FAQ - Expanded (March 2019)

Draft Text for Affordable Housing Zoning Overlay (March 2019) 

100%-Affordable Housing Zoning Overlay FAQ (Fall 2018)

100%-Affordable Housing Zoning Overlay Infographic

View a map of Affordable Housing Units by Census block

To read more about amendments to the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance under consideration, click here to be taken to the Zoning Amendments webpage.