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100%-Affordable Housing Zoning Overlay

The idea for an 100%-Affordable Housing Zoning Overlay has grown out of discussions with the City Council to introduce policy changes that will address the housing crisis. The goal 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 100%-affordable housing will help reduce development costs and allow affordable housing providers to create new affordable units more quickly and use 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 has expressed interest in considering this idea further. Community Development staff are now developing the concept so that more detailed discussions with the City Council can take place in early 2019, in advance of filing a petition to amend the Zoning Ordinance for City Council consideration. Amendments to the Zoning Ordinance can be enacted when approved by the City Council after a public process, which includes review by the City Council Ordinance Committee and the Planning Board.  The public process begins when a zoning petition is filed.

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Open Houses

The City 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.

Past Open Houses:

  • Saturday, June 15th, 1:00-3:00 p.m.
    Citywide Senior Center, 806 Mass Ave.

  • Wednesday, June 19th, 6:00-8:00 p.m.
    West Cambridge Youth Center, 680 Huron Ave.

  • Thursday, July 18th, 6:00-8:00 p.m.
    Multicultural Arts Center, 41 Second St.

  • Monday, July 22nd, 6:00-8:00 p.m.
    Cambridge Community Center, 5 Callender St.

  • Wednesday, July 24th, 6:00-8:00 p.m.
    Trolley Square Community Room, 2401 Massachusetts Ave. 

  • Monday, August 5th, 6:00-8:00 p.m.
    Cambridge Public Library Main Branch, Community Room, 449 Broadway 

  • Saturday, September 7th, 10:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m.
    Windsor Street Care Center Gym, 119 Windsor St. 

  • Additional Resources

    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 - Memo to Ordinance Committee (August 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 (June 2019)

    Affordable Housing Overlay (AHO) Zoning Petition – 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 Affordable Housing Overlay (AHO).
    • Prototypical Site Models. With the support of design consultants HFMH Architects, CDD has worked to to create conceptual site models based on the Affordable Housing Overlay (AHO) zoning petition.

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

    Revised Draft Text for Affordable Housing Zoning Overlay (April 2019) City staff have prepared a draft zoning text for the 100%-Affordable Housing Overlay proposal for discussion at the April 25th meeting of the Housing Committee.  Please note that the draft provided here is a work in progress as City staff continue to work on this matter.

    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) City staff have prepared a draft zoning text for the 100%-Affordable Housing Overlay proposal for discussion at the March 28th meeting of the Housing Committee.  Please note that the draft provided here is a work in progress as City staff continue to work on this matter.

    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.