Latest Updates (2019/08/29)

Cambridge’s Community Development Department has released new proposed ordinance text for the Affordable Housing Overlay. The latest draft includes the changes made during the recent Ordinance Committee hearings, as well as other changes in response to requests from the Council.

A brief summary of the most significant changes that have been made to date:

  • Eliminating parking minimums citywide.
  • Adjusting maximum height in some districts to be 6 stories instead of 7.
  • Eliminating basement dwellings.
  • Requiring large buildings have significant setbacks from the street every 150 feet (instead of every 250).
  • AHO Projects must conform to the City’s Tree Protection Ordinance (from which affordable projects are otherwise exempt).

The updates to the ordinance that CDD prepared have largely been minor language changes, but there are two notable exceptions:

  • The maximum “FAR” (ratio of floor area on a particular parcel to its lot size) has been set at 2.0 for low-height residential districts. This means that buildings would be limited in their overall density in residential areas, one of the major areas of concern among residents.
  • Another clarification was made that clarified that the height under the overlay does *not* default to district standards; this was a change made in the April update of the ordinance, but some groups like the Cambridge Citizen’s Coalition had been spreading misinformation that indicated taller buildings would be allowed. (This was already documented in the earlier comparison charts CDD had produced, and in their most recent presentations to the Housing Committee (in April), Planning Board (in July), and Ordinance Committee (in July); the latest text update just confirms that.)

Beyond the text changes to the ordinance, CDD also prepared a response on several issues the Council had requested a report back on.

  • CDD had been requested to offer feedback on Councilor Zondervan’s amendment to require housing produced under the Overlay proposal to require all construction be “net-zero ready”. (The exact definition of this is still not clear at this time.) In response, CDD stated in their memo that “Requiring AHO projects to build to net zero standards sooner than otherwise required for all development would put affordable housing builders at a disadvantage relative to developers of market-rate housing.” Instead, they suggested that the City should require a “Net Zero Narrative” to document as part of the Green Building Requirements to fully document and explain the ways in which new construction has maximized energy efficiency.
  • In response to concerns about involuntary displacement, CDD documented that most residents displaced by affordable housing creation are supported by relocation funds attached to the underlying funding source: that is, because federal and state dollars are used to fund construction, they are constrained by the policies attached to those funds, which require or include relocation assistance. CDD also recommends that “as a matter of policy, and not through the Zoning Ordinance, the City request that where other state or federal relocation policies do not otherwise apply, developers provide similar relocation benefits to households earning up to 100% AMI.”
  • In response to a question about providing full-time MBTA passes, rather than providing the passes only on initial occupancy, CDD indicated that the increased cost from such an ongoing arrangement would likely be significant over the current proposal, and could harm project feasibility, requiring up to $35,000 per unit in additional subsidy; and that such benefits would likely be treated as income under federal housing income guidelines, which could create unintentional side effects for residents.
  • In response to questions about applying the tree protection ordinance to Affordable Housing Overlay projects, CDD indicated that while such requirements would add some cost and complication, they would not make projects infeasible.
  • In response to concerns about historical preservation, CDD provided additional information on the recommendation of the Cambridge Historical Society to use the State’s Register of Historic Places, which combines national, state, and local landmark designations, and covers about 2500 properties in Cambridge today (more than 10% of the total properties in the city).

The Ordinance Committee will be resuming their meeting at noon tomorrow; and the Planning Board will be meeting again at 6:30 to continue discussing the proposal.