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City Manager's Message

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Dear Cambridge Community,

Last summer, we devoted an entire newsletter to sharing how Cambridge is addressing global climate change. Today, we are devoting this newsletter to the housing crisis that we are confronting.

Rising housing costs have become an ever-present challenge to everyone in our city, from young people building lives in our community, to families seeking more space for children, to seniors trying to stay close to family and friends. In our 2023 resident survey, we asked what is the single most important issue facing our city? 39% of you said affordable housing, a result that has been repeated year after year. And while prices dropped during the pandemic, rents have increased by more than 10% since 2020 and remained among the highest in greater Boston. We have an amazing community, but it’s becoming unaffordable, inaccessible, and inequitable.

There is now broad recognition that housing is a crisis. President Biden speaks regularly about the need to address the high cost of housing and to “build, build, build.” Governor Healey has stated simply that housing is the number one issue for her administration. Cambridge has been active in supporting these larger efforts. The City Council passed multiple policy orders supporting a local transfer fee option to fund affordable housing and I have testified multiple times at the State House in favor of the Governor’s Affordable Homes Act which would provide billions of dollars toward affordable housing and provide key policy changes that would support our local efforts. We cannot solve housing alone and we will continue to work closely with our state delegation to pursue innovative policy solutions.

Cambridge has also been a leader and taken important actions at a city level. The City Council has passed some of the most progressive housing policies in the state, including density bonuses and “as-of-right” zoning for affordable housing developments, eliminating parking minimums, and significant inclusionary housing requirements for market rate housing. The recent Alewife district re-zoning prioritized housing and will result in not just commercial development, but also up to 3,500 new housing units, including as many as 700 income-restricted affordable units.

We have also made significant financial investments in affordable housing, with the city allocating over $40 million each year to the Affordable Housing Trust. This has tripled over the last five years and represents one of the largest budget priorities in our annual operating budget. The City has also recently taken an inventory of city-owned parcels and begun discussions with the City Council on how they can be used for community benefit, particularly affordable housing. Finally, we have been active in assessing properties on the market and have funded a number of purchases by affordable housing providers with the purpose of building new affordable housing.

This commitment extends well beyond policy, investment and development. Our actions center around people. Those who aspire to make Cambridge their new home and those who are proud to call Cambridge home.  Our broader scope of housing-related resources and services, includes funding and support for housing stabilization, accessing affordable housing opportunities, and obtaining assistance to prevent eviction and tenant displacement.  We also offer a full range of support for residents who want to purchase homes, which includes City funding to assist eligible residents buying homes on the market, as well as homeowners who are need of making needed home repairs and improvements.

This issue will provide a broad overview of our key commitments, initiatives, and investments. I’m so proud of all of the incredible efforts that the Council and City staff have accomplished over the years. And yet, despite all of this, prices continue to rise and more must be done – at greater scale and with greater urgency.

As with all of our work, we will move forward together as a community.

Yi-An Huang

City Manager Yi-An Huang swearing in at a podium in City Hall.
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