Make no mistake – Cambridge has been experiencing a white-hot development boom over the past decade. In response, the City Council has been working hard to strike an appropriate balance between the developers’ wants and the community’s needs.
Denise was among those that sponsored the Council Order asking for a comprehensive Master Plan to help guide our development over the coming decades. Even as we allow that process to move forward, it is important that the City Council continue working to ensure that any ongoing development be guided by asking whether these new projects increase affordable housing availabilities, strengthen the local economy, and enhance the socio-economic diversity that gives Cambridge its strength.
As Co-Chair of the Housing Committee, Denise has led the charge on having the City Council triple the linkage fee that developers must pay into the Affordable Housing Trust, which will translate into millions of additional dollars to be put toward preserving and creating affordable housing units in the coming years. This term, she helped lead the Housing Committee, and then the full City Council, to vote in favor of updating the City's Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance, doubling the amount of affordable units that must be included in development going forward - together, these two policy modifications will have a substantial and long-lasting impact upon helping more people find and stay in truly affordable units in the community that they call home.
Denise also worked hard to ensure that the Mass + Main project provided a substantial amount of truly affordable units, more than doubling the initial offerings, and ensuring that the final project is in line with K2C2 recommendations to help revitalize Central Square. Denise has also held numerous hearings that brought the Cambridge Housing Authority and all other major area housing providers together to increase their collaboration to better address the region's great affordable housing needs. Denise was also one of the prime movers and most prominent voices on the City Council urging the City to take action on the long-vacant, blighted Vail Court property on Bishop Allen Drive. These efforts led to the City's taking this property by eminent domain in 2016, and discussions are now moving forward to determine what type of affordable housing can be constructed on the property - a win for Central Square, those seeking affordable housing, and the entire City.
Denise continues to be a true leader on the a City Council in advancing policies geared toward preserving and expanding the city's stock of affordable housing, and providing more opportunities for longtime residents to remain in the city they love.
Below are more specific answers stemming from questions posed to City Council candidates from the Cambridge Residents Alliance in 2015. Councilor Simmons has posted her answers on her website in order to provide more fleshed-out answers to these pressing questions than she might otherwise have been able to do, in order to give residents a better sense of where she stands on the issues, and the reasons for her stances:
Denise believes that a data-driven Housing Plan that includes how many units are needed, and for which income levels, is an important goal to work towards. This is in keeping with the discussions the Community Development Department has been engaged in throughout the Housing Committee meetings Councilor Simmons has chaired over this past term. The Master Plan should be geared toward creating a workable blueprint for future development that retains and enhances the character of all areas of the city. Beyond that, Denise does not wish to put constraints on how the City's consultants begin to put their initial proposal together, and she looks forward to seeing this process move forward.
Denise supports increasing the linkage rate to $12 per square foot, with a $1 increase over the next three years, at which time the next Nexus study will be initiated. Denise does not believe that we should lock linkage funds into pre-determined percentages of how they will be put to use, and rather, we should preserve flexibility in how linkage funds can be applied depending upon the development and the best thinking at the time. Councilor Simmons trusts our Community Development Department to determine the best uses of this funding as we go forward.
Furthermore, Denise believes that the prestigious educational institutions in the City, including Harvard and MIT, need to be more deliberate in making plans to house a greater percentage of their grad-students. Doing so would help alleviate some of the strain on the local affordable housing market.
To increase low and moderate-incoming housing availability, Denise would approve of the Zoning Ordinance's Inclusionary zoning being increased to 20%, and that all affordable units be family-sized units, provided that the Community Development Department advises that this would not hinder development. To best fulfill this, the CDD should continue to prioritize the community interests that are already a part of their mission and at the core of what the department seeks to do.
Net Zero Initiatives
Denise is supportive of the full implementation of the Net Zero Task Force recommendations and would be open to having discussions about expediting the timeline for this process. In the same vein, she supports what will make Cambridge safe and resilient in the face of climate change. Once specific standards and recommendations are released, the City Council can better assess which standards may be feasibly implemented and prioritized according to their urgency.
Denise accepts campaign donations from those whom she considers to be upfront in their intentions. Those who donate to the campaign are appreciated for their support and she hopes that those who donate do so because they understand she will always be fair, honest, and open-minded in their interactions with the Council. That said, whether someone donates $1000 or nothing at all, she will always be there to take their phone call, listen to their concerns, have a conversation, and be of assistance to them if possible. She feels strongly that in order to be an effective public servant, she needs to be as accessible to the person without a home as she is to the president of Harvard, and her record demonstrates that to have been the case.
Building More Affordable Housing
When it comes to building 100% affordable housing on City-owned land, in some cases the City should seriously consider building 100% affordable housing, while in other cases, Denise believes that the City might get more value by selling the land and using the money to partner with CBOs that are focused on housing. There are many creative solutions that may ultimately net Cambridge more affordable units, and none of these solutions should be taken off the table.
Photo Credit: Robin Lubbock/WBUR