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Jivan Sobrinho-Wheeler, a first-time candidate for Cambridge City Council, hopes to bring his experience as a renter and community advocate to the local government this election season.
Sobrinho-Wheeler is one of 22 candidates vying for nine seats on the City Council. He works at the Lincoln Institute, a land policy nonprofit in Cambridge that focuses on community development and urban planning, and volunteers for the Boston Democratic Socialists of America and the Boston Sunrise Movement, an environmental activism group
Sobrinho-Wheeler said the city council today does not reflect the demographics of Cambridge when it comes to housing prices, a perspective that he said he would be able to bring as a renter.
“I’m a renter because I can’t afford to buy a home in Cambridge, and two-thirds of Cambridge are renters,” Sobrinho-Wheeler said. “We have hardly any renters on the City Council.”
Sobrinho-Wheeler pointed to housing reform and affordability as key issues for his campaign.
Mass. State Representative Mike Connolly, who has worked with Sobrinho-Wheeler on “several housing issues,” has endorsed him for the City Council.
“I just think he brings a real perspective of housing justice and of equity to the conversation around affordable housing in Cambridge,” Connolly said in an interview.
Sobrinho-Wheeler also said he is pitching voters on an integrated approach to environmental and economic policies, noting that these issues tend to disproportionately affect lower-income individuals.
“Folks who are going to be most impacted by climate change are the same folks whom our economy is failing and, you know, are dealing with a legacy of structural racism,” Sobrinho-Wheeler said. “We should be thinking about climate change and economic inequality and racial inequity holistically.”
Sobrinho-Wheeler also discussed the relationship between the city and its educational institutions, in light of Harvard’s graduate student union recently voting to authorize its strike. In particular, he advocated for
“These universities we have here, they should also be paying their students, their adjunct staff, [and] their cafeteria workers decent wages and health care,” he said. “That includes grad students, and we should be pushing for that as a city council.”
“Harvard and MIT both pay for PILOTs, payments in lieu of taxes, and they’re far less than what they should be paying,” he added.
Sarah E. Gallop, Co-Director of Government and Community Relations at MIT, said that MIT makes significant tax contributions to the city.
“MIT is actually the largest taxpayer in Cambridge by a long shot,” Gallop said. “We pay taxes on all our commercial property and offer payment in lieu of taxes on all our academic property.”
Harvard spokesperson Brigid O’Rourke wrote in an emailed statement that the University does not comment on elections or individual candidates. She directed The Crimson to previous statements about Harvard’s contributions to the Payment in Lieu of Taxes program.
“Harvard has a long tradition of paying taxes and making voluntary PILOT payments to its host communities. During the last fiscal year, Harvard paid more than $4 million in a voluntary PILOT payment, as well as more than $6 million in taxes to the City of Cambridge,” O’Rourke has previously written.
Sobrinho-Wheeler said he has also worked to run a grassroots campaign as a way to garner support from those who do not typically vote in City Council elections.
“Those folks are more likely to be renters, younger people, lower-income folks,” he said. “If we could turn out a few more of those people, we can reshape politics in the city.”
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