A Long Standing Commitment to Affordable Housing helping to meet the housing needs of thousands of residents

Affordable housing has been a priority in Cambridge since the end of rent control in the 1990s. The City has taken steps that few other municipalities can to address housing affordability.

This has paid off in the numbers of people housed, affordable units created and preserved, and funds leveraged by the City’s investment. Cambridge has long stood out as an example of what a city can do when it is committed to housing. This effort has also helped preserve the socioeconomic diversity of the city.

What is Affordable Housing?

Housing is considered “affordable” when a tenant or homeowner pays no more than 30% of their gross income for housing costs. Affordable housing in Cambridge serves low, moderate, and middle-income households, with the most programs targeted to those who earn less than 80% of Area Median Income adjusted for household size.

In Cambridge, there are over 7,600 affordable units, including rental housing, homeownership, and inclusionary zoning units that serve many different household types.

In the past 5 years, more than 1,370 units of affordable housing created or preserved, 140 homebuyers purchased affordable homes through Cambridge's Community Development Department's homeownership program, and 440 affordable units were recapitalized, rehabbed and/or revitalized utilzing City/Affordable Housing Trust funding.

Affordable housing units are found in affordable buildings, mixed into market-rate rental buildings, and scattered throughout many condominium buildings. Affordable rental and homeownership units remain so through long-term deed restrictions held by the City or another entity.

Our Approach

In just the last 5 years, Cambridge has invested more than $50 million in affordable housing efforts, leveraged hundreds of millions of dollars of other public and private investments, and created and preserved more than 1,370 homes for low, moderate, and middle-income families.

Cambridge’s high housing costs necessitate creative use of resources to achieve affordability goals.

The City’s most significant funding for affordable housing comes from allocating City funds to the Affordable Housing Trust which was first done in 1995. The adoption of the Community Preservation Act (CPA) in 2001 enabled the City to greatly expand this commitment, and has provided $124 million in CPA funds for the Trust.

The City has provided $124 million in CPA funds for the Affordable Housing Trust.

The City takes a multi-faceted approach to affordable housing and has many strategies in place to respond to the continuing and evolving need for affordable housing. The Housing Division of CDD manages and implements City housing efforts and advances City housing goals by:

  • Offering affordable housing;
  • Creating new affordable housing;
  • Preserving existing housing at-risk due to threat of expiring use restrictions, physical condition or financial need;
  • Providing homebuyer education and counseling;
  • Offering housing rehab assistance and financing to homeowners.

Inclusionary Housing & Incentive Zoning

There are two major affordable housing-related requirements in the City’s zoning ordinance, one which brings in new funds for affordable housing (incentive zoning), and one which directly creates affordable units (inclusionary housing).

Incentive zoning requires developers of certain new non-residential developments to contribute funds to the Affordable Housing Trust to address the impact of their development on housing needs. To date, the incentive zoning provisions have resulted in contributions of $5.4 million for the Cambridge Affordable Housing Trust.

In 2015 the City COuncil approved increasing the incentive zoning contribution from $4.58 to $12 per sq ft and will increase to $15 over the next 3 years.

The City’s inclusionary housing requirements, which apply to new residential developments, necessitate that developers include afford¬able units mixed throughout each new building. So far, more than 885 new afford¬able units, located in private buildings throughout the city, have been built without the need for any subsidy funding.

Housing available through CDD

Affordable rental and homeownership opportunities are made available through CDD’s Housing Division which accepts applications on a rolling basis.

Preference for available units is given to residents and, for family-sized units, to applicants with children. These units include new and existing rental units as well as homeownership units within the City’s stock of more than 500 limited equity units. When available, buyers for new homeownership units are selected by lottery.

"I found out about the City’s affordable rental opportunity through a flier given out at my granddaughter’s school. I live in a newer apartment community with state-of-the-art amenities, nearby shops, and public transportation two blocks away. I feel so blessed to be able to live here." Debbie Hill

In the end, it is about people

Cambridge’s success in creating and offering affordable housing has helped more than 420 individuals and families remain in the community in the past 5 years.

“We desperately wanted to move for more space and more importantly, more stability,” says Dan, a father of three who with his wife recently purchased an affordable home through CDD’s homebuyer program. “The energy we wasted on a bad living situation is now going in healthier directions since we bought our home.” Natalia, who recently retired, was facing paying more than 50% of her income in rent. For her, moving into an affordable rental unit offered by the City “brought me a sense of great relief from anxiety about my financial situation.”

"I never dreamed we could afford to live in such a beautiful place. With the money we are saving because of the City’s Affordable Rental Program, we are able to save more for our daughter’s education. We are so very lucky." Veli Albano

CDD is now working to select tenants for a large number of affordable rental units now becoming available in new buildings, including new units that are affordable for middle-income households. We are also continuing to assist new homebuyers and recently increases City funding assistance available for new buyers to up to 50% of the purchase price of homes on the market

What’s Next?

Over the next year, the City will continue offering affordable housing and assistance for residents while also looking at new ways to address housing needs. The City will be releasing a new study which will recommend changes to the inclusionary housing requirements to improve how these provisions help meet the city's affordable housing needs.

As costs continue to rise, there is an emerging need for housing that is affordable to middle-income households as well as continuing need for low and moderate-income families, seniors, homeless, and special-needs populations. CDD is now working with affordable housing providers and other public agencies to find new opportunities and develop new ideas while also reexamining how the private sector can help address affordable housing goals.

Housing conversations will continue and be a significant component of the upcoming citywide plan planning process and will be a key topic in the final Envision Cambridge plan.

Publication of the Office of the City Manager

Cambridge, Massachusetts

Adapted from CityView Newsletter

Created By
Lee Gianetti
Photos: City of Cambridge

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