Update on Affordable Housing Linkage

On Monday evening, the city council adopted an amended version of my recent proposal to update the Incentive Zoning Housing Contribution rate.

Commonly known as "linkage fees," the Housing Contribution rate applies to large, commercial developers who are seeking certain kinds of special permits and is intended to offset the impact of commercial development on the local housing market.

Since 2002, the Incentive Zoning program has generated approximately $3.5M for affordable housing in our city. If that figure seems low, it's because the council has failed to update the linkage fees for well over a decade.

Section 11.203.1 of the City's Zoning Ordinance states that the Housing Contribution shall be subject to review and recalculation every three years by the Cambridge City Council. But the ordinance has been largely ignored, and as a result, our city has missed out on millions of dollars for affordable housing, even as we enjoy remarkable growth in our commercial sector.

The good news is that many of my colleagues expressed a willingness to move forward with a linkage fee update at Monday's meeting.

However, Mayor David Maher took a different view, saying he did not want to "jump the gun" on an update, while also suggesting that we have a broader conversation on the subject of linkage fees.

In the end, we agreed to a compromise: we ordered the City Manager to report back to the council with language that would enable us to move forward as originally proposed, and in addition, the broader topic of linkage will be discussed at a joint meeting of the Housing and Finance Committees.

This is a positive outcome. We will continue to move forward with implementation of the 2002 Housing Contribution rate, and at the same time, we will also have a broader discussion on expanding the scope of the program.

Thank you to Councillor Nadeem Mazen for co-sponsoring this initiative, and thanks again to all who are standing with us in this effort to expand funding for affordable housing.

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