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City Council Meeting Focuses on Increasing Affordable Housing

By Joshua J. Florence, Crimson Staff Writer

In a shorter than usual meeting Monday, the Cambridge City Council tackled issues ranging from a lack of local affordable housing, to a potential medical marijuana dispensary, and prescription drugs disposal.

Spiking property values and rents, which stand to become a hot topic of discussion for the City Council over the course of this term, were at the center of the recently released Cambridge Inclusionary Housing Study.

After reading the report, whose findings indicate housing rates in Cambridge are increasing faster than incomes, City Manager Richard C. Rossi recommended that the Council consider raising the percentage of required affordable housing. The Council currently requires some housing developments to maintain a 15 percent affordable housing ratio.

“I would suggest that the City Council consider an increase in the inclusionary standards to be in the range of 17 percent to 20 percent of the total of newly-built units,” Rossi wrote in a letter to the City Council.

Several City Councillors ran on a platform to solve the affordable housing crisis outlined in the recent report.

“We have an affordable housing crisis in Cambridge. That’s no secret,” Councillor Jan Devereux said. “It’s been recognized for quite a while that the program needs to be strengthened.

Devereux, a member of the City Council’s Housing Committee, claimed that the study would lead to recommendations about affordable housing in the city. The Council will send the results of the report to its Housing committee and potentially its Zoning and Ordinance committee for further discussion, according to Devereux.

At Monday’s meeting, Mayor E. Denise Simmons said the Housing Committee will meet at least three times to debate the matter, including one meeting that will include local residents and developers.

The Council also postponed a resolution on Sage Cannabis’ proposal to create a new medical marijuana zone on Massachusetts Avenue. The resolution, which was sponsored by Zoning and Ordinance Committee members Marc C. McGovern and Leland Cheung, requested that the City Manager write a letter of “non-opposition” to Sage Cannabis’ proposal.

Councillor Nadeem A. Mazen said such a letter would not explicitly approve the new medical marijuana zone, but would aid Sage Cannabis in the state approval process.

“A city manager or mayor doesn’t have to take a moral position or even a logistical position to whether or not they want it,” Mazen said. “It’s important for the state process.”

The Council plans to vote on the letter along with the zoning changes on April 25, according to Devereux.

The Council also adopted a resolution that calls on the City Manager to increase prescription drug drop off locations to impede the growing opioid crisis.

“For many residents, especially seniors, it can be challenging to get to these locations, which may mean that medications are improperly disposed of or remain in medicine cabinets where they could be misused,” the resolution reads.

Devereux, who sponsored the resolution, said the city should play a more active role in making prescription drug disposal as simple as possible for Cambridge residents.

“We want to make it really easy for residents to get them out of their homes—not flush them down the toilet, leave them in their medicine cabinet, or throw them in the trash,” Devereux said.

—Staff writer Joshua Florence can be reached at joshua.florence@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @JoshuaFlorence1.

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