Sixth Hearing on Affordable Housing Set for 9/8

Having been unable to reach consensus on a couple of key sticking points, the City Council’s Housing Committee will hold a sixth hearing on proposed changes to the inclusionary zoning ordinance on Thursday, Sept. 8 at 2:30pm at City Hall. Yes, this is the same day as the state’s election primaries, and, yes, 2:30 is an inconvenient time to hold a public hearing on an issue of great importance to working people. The scheduling reflects that the need for a sixth meeting was unanticipated and the urgency the committee feels to forward its recommendations on to the Ordinance Committee. Our sense of urgency increased following a Black Lives Matter protest at City Hall last Wednesday, the day after the Housing Committee’s fifth hearing. The Sept. 8th hearing will be televised and live-streamed, however. Public comment may, as always, be emailed to the Council at council@cambridgema.gov and placed on the public record by cc’ing City Clerk Donna Lopez at dlopez@cambridgema.gov.

The main sticking point is how long it will take us to reach the net 20% inclusionary requirement, which was recommended by the Rosen study, and endorsed by the Community Development Department and the Affordable Housing Trust. Most members of the Housing Committee have expressed agreement in principle that 20% is the goal. The suggestion placed on the table at the last hearing is to require 13% at the time of ordination, increase it to 15% in six months, and to 20% one year from the date of ordination. The percentage that applies to a project would be calculated at the time a project obtains its special permit (or building permit for a project that does not need special permits).

At the hearing I expressed concern that the the Ordinance Committee hearing process and the subsequent Council vote could take several months (at least 6 votes are required for a zoning change; a super-majority of 7 is preferable). I feel the process has already dragged on and developers have been on notice for the better part of a year that 20% is our policy goal.

To recap the timeline and the procedural process ahead:

  • The current rate (11.5% net with the 30% density bonus) was set in 1998 and has not been increased since.
  • CDD hired a leading national consultant (David Paul Rosen & Associates) to study changes to the inclusionary program.
  • The pressing need for more affordable housing dominated last year’s City Council election campaign, and housing advocates clamored for the inclusionary study to be released. There were rumors that the long-awaited study was nearing completion by the end of 2015.
  • CDD began meeting with councillors to preview the study’s findings in early 2016. I first met with CDD on the topic on March 10th. As the newest councillor and one who campaigned on a platform of not accepting developer donations, I assume I was not the first on their list. I also assume that developers also had conversations with CDD staff last spring.
  • The City Manager placed the Rosen study on the Council’s April 11th agenda, when it was briefly discussed and referred to the Housing Committee.
  • The Housing Committee’s first public hearing was held on May 18th. A total of five hearings have been held, and a sixth is scheduled for this Thursday (Sept. 8th).
  • If we vote on Thursday to forward recommended changes to the Ordinance Committee, it will take a little time for CDD and the city’s legal staff to draft the precise zoning language that reflects whatever framework the Housing Committee agrees upon.
  • Once the zoning language is drafted two weeks of public advertisement are required before an Ordinance Committee can be held. The Ordinance Committee may need more than one meeting to discuss the changes before voting to “pass it to a second reading,” which sends it to the full Council for a vote.
  • The final version of the ordinance must appear on two council meeting agendas before the full council can take a vote to ordain it. Our final regular Council meeting of 2016 is Dec. 19th, and we resume meeting on Jan. 9th, 2017.
  • If the phase-in period is limited to one year, as was suggested at the last hearing, the full 20% may not be reached until Dec. 19, 2017 (best case, given the lengthy process I just explained), or some time in 2018 unless specific dates are written into the ordinance itself (eg. “The rate will increase to 20% one year from ordination or by DATE, whichever is sooner.”)

 

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Jan Devereux
City Councillor
Cambridge, MA