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Cambridge’s Commitment to Affordable Housing: Preserving and Creating Sustainable Communities

Monday, June 26, 2023

A Comprehensive Approach to Addressing the Housing Crisis

Affordable housing remains a critical priority for the City of Cambridge and our residents. With housing costs skyrocketing, the City has made significant efforts to tackle this pressing issue. By allocating substantial funds and implementing innovative strategies, Cambridge aims to preserve existing affordable units and create new housing opportunities. Let’s delve into the factual details of the City’s initiatives, partnerships, and future plans.

Allocating Funds for Affordable Housing

In the upcoming fiscal year, the City of Cambridge will invest over $46.3 million into affordable housing, with a substantial portion dedicated to the Affordable Housing Trust. Since 1992, the City’s commitment to affordable housing totals over $317 million. These funds have facilitated the preservation and creation of over 3,700 affordable units. Recognizing the urgency, Cambridge aims to address high housing costs through zoning tools, affordable rental housing, and comprehensive support for prospective homeowners.

Expanding the Pipeline of Affordable Housing

Utilizing funds from the Affordable Housing Trust, Cambridge is actively expanding its pipeline of affordable housing options. The implementation of the Affordable Housing Overlay (AHO) Zoning Ordinance, adopted in FY21, has played a crucial role in kickstarting 100%-affordable housing developments. Currently, a 62-unit AHO development is under construction, while three other projects, totaling over 430 units, have completed the AHO review process and are moving forward. These efforts signify a tangible step towards meeting the City’s growing demand for affordable housing.

Promoting Inclusionary Housing

Inclusivity is a key focus for Cambridge, and the City is working closely with building owners and managers to enhance the experiences of inclusionary housing residents. Recommendations from the multi-year study of Resident Experiences of Inclusion and Bias in Inclusionary Housing will guide the City’s actions to create stronger, more cohesive communities.

This past fiscal year, over 100 new inclusionary rental units were completed and plans for more than 100 new inclusionary housing units were reviewed. Cambridge is committed to ensuring that inclusionary housing remains accessible to all residents. With over 150 units under construction, new inclusionary housing units will continue to be made available to residents in the next year. Over 675 applicants have been housed in inclusionary rental units in the past 5 years, and over 1,200 residents moved into an inclusionary rental unit in the last decade.

Empowering Affordable Homeownership

Cambridge understands the significance of affordable homeownership and offers comprehensive support to potential homebuyers. In the past fiscal year, over 500 participants attended the City’s free homeownership workshops, and many also received free homeownership counseling services. The HomeBridge program, bolstered by a $6 million commitment from the Affordable Housing Trust, assists households earning up to 120% of the area median income. The program provides up to 50% of the purchase price of the home, which then becomes a permanent part of the City’s affordable housing stock. Cambridge also oversees more than 550 affordable homes, ensuring their availability to future buyers through the City’s homeownership resale program. Additionally, later this year, a lottery for four new inclusionary homeownership units will be completed. Over the last decade, over 155 residents have purchased a City-assisted affordable home in Cambridge.

Supporting the Unhoused Community

Cambridge is dedicated to supporting individuals experiencing homelessness by allocating significant funding to maintain shelter beds. A notable example is the recent commitment of $1.1 million in operational funding to keep the Salvation Army’s 35-bed shelter and daytime drop-in center open after state funding was set to run out. Furthermore, the City has allocated a combination of $1.7 million from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and City funds to sustain services at the Transition Wellness Center, a 58-bed temporary emergency shelter.

The Salvation Army shelter’s daytime drop-in center hosts a Cambridge Health Alliance Healthcare for the Homeless clinic and daily meal service. Additionally, the City supports a seasonal Winter Warming Center that provides safe, low-threshold overnight shelter during the coldest months of the year. The City will also provide funds for shower services by First Church Cambridge, continuing a critical service that began during the public health emergency.

The City’s critical work in supporting planning and services for those experiencing homelessness and housing instability will be enhanced in the coming year with the creation of a new senior level position in the Department of Human Service Programs. In the upcoming fiscal year, the City is spending over $15.8 million dollars on homelessness and housing stability efforts.

Emergency Housing Voucher Program: A Lifeline in Times of Need

Cambridge’s Department of Human Service Programs, together with the Housing Liaison Office, Cambridge Housing Authority, Transition House, and the Cambridge Continuum of Care, have formed a remarkable partnership to leverage Emergency Housing Vouchers (EHV) funded by ARPA. These vouchers aim to provide essential assistance to individuals and families experiencing homelessness, at risk of homelessness, fleeing domestic violence, recently homeless, or facing high housing instability. Alongside ARPA funding, significant investments have been made in housing navigation and stabilization staffing, ensuring comprehensive support.

As of March 2023, over 100 households have successfully obtained housing through the EHV program. Recognizing the ongoing need, the City will continue to allocate funds for housing navigation, stabilization services, and additional housing vouchers. These efforts represent a vital lifeline for those in crisis, helping to secure stable housing and fostering a sense of security and stability within the community.

Office of the Housing Liaison: Empowering Residents with Personalized Support

In response to the rising complexity of housing situations referred to the Office of the Housing Liaison (OHL), an additional Intensive Case Manager position will be added in the coming year. This new role will bring hands-on, comprehensive, and ongoing support to residents, meeting them in the field or at their homes. The Intensive Case Manager will also serve as a key point of contact for referrals from the Inspectional Services Department (ISD), working closely with ISD to address tenant complaints, needs, and concerns. This collaboration ensures that property management complies with ISD citations to the satisfaction of both ISD and the tenant.

Do you have a question related to housing?
Do you want to learn more about affordable rental opportunities?
Need help navigating financial assistance programs for housing?

The Housed in Cambridge team can help. Call 617-349-6337 or visit Cambridgema.gov/HousedInCambridge.

In conjunction with the Human Rights Commission (CHRC), the OHL staff has drafted a Rapid Response for New Arrival plan. This plan, currently being finalized by an intradepartmental working group, aims to establish procedures and protocols for coordinated emergency responses in the future. Originally designed to prepare for potential unannounced new arrival groups, the plan is anticipated to serve as a model for re-housing individuals displaced by various emergencies or disasters.

The Office of the Housing Liaison’s commitment to personalized assistance and proactive emergency response underscores Cambridge’s dedication to ensuring housing stability for all residents. By addressing tenant needs, lease violations, hoarding concerns, and housekeeping issues, the City is fostering a supportive environment where residents can thrive and overcome housing-related challenges.

Did you know?

Over the next year the City of Cambridge is committing $281 million of overall funding across:

  • Affordable Housing & Homelessness
  • Early Childhood
  • Sustainability
  • Vision Zero & Traffic Safety
  • Antiracism, Equity, & Inclusion
This funding provides greater capital allocations for major infrastructure projects related to the Cycling Safety Ordinance and greater resourcing for universal pre-kindergarten, homelessness, and climate initiatives.


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