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Cambridge City Council Votes Against Changes to Affordable Housing Overlay Amendments
First-time candidate Vernon K. Walker is prioritizing affordable housing, climate change, and racial justice in his bid for a seat on Cambridge’s City Council.
One of 23 candidates in the race, Walker is currently a Democratic State Committee member and a master’s in Public Policy student at Tufts University. He was also recently appointed as the new Climate Justice Program Director of Clean Water Action Massachusetts.
Walker has received endorsements from outgoing City Councilor Quinton Y. Zondervan, the Massachusetts Nurses Association, Massachusetts State Representative Michael L. Connolly, and Massachusetts State Senator James B. Eldridge.
“I have worked closely with Vernon and climate action, peace, and social justice issues, and believe his commitment to a bold progressive agenda will best serve the people of Cambridge,” Eldridge wrote in an endorsement posted on Walker’s X profile.
Walker cites his personal experiences as a current tenant in inclusionary zoning housing — where a certain percentage of units must be made affordable — as well as his childhood experience of living in public housing in Philadelphia as important influences on his position on housing issues.
“I know the importance of being able to provide affordable housing,” he said in an interview with The Crimson. “The housing crisis is a regional problem. It’s a national problem, and I don’t think Cambridge can solve the regional problem, but I think we can take and try different initiatives to be able to solve the housing crisis that we have here in our city.”
Walker proposes an expansion of rental vouchers and home ownership assistance. He also said he is interested in trying pilot programs that would provide vouchers to individuals who are paying market rate rent.
He also said he supports an amended Affordable Housing Overlay and increasing Cambridge’s inclusionary zoning requirement from 20 percent to 25 or 30 percent. The City Council rejected changes to the proposed amendments to the AHO on Monday.
“If Cambridge is going to be a shining light in our nation as we have been, as we have been the leader on many fronts related to innovation and technology, I think we need to be leading from the top of the march on trying affordable housing initiatives,” he said.
During the second candidate forum on Tuesday, Walker was one of many who said he supported the elimination of exclusionary zoning, particularly because “we know that Black and brown folks are hurt the most.”
Walker’s platform also prioritizes racial justice, and he said in an interview he supports creating a commission tasked with analyzing how Black and brown individuals are affected by a variety of issues including housing, economic opportunity, public health, education, and incarceration.
“How can we move forward and engage and have more civic engagement and civic participation from communities of color?” he said.
Walker highlights climate change in his plan, drawing on experience as a former program manager and director at Communities Responding to Extreme Weather — a local organization that helps communities prepare for and acclimate to extreme weather conditions.
“We need a city councilor that has a background in climate adaptation and climate resilience work to bring that work to the Council to begin to help craft and shape policies that will prepare all our communities and all our 13 neighborhoods across the city for extreme weather,” Walker said.
Some of Walker’s ideas include opening more cooling centers, creating educational programs on how to stay safe during extreme weather, and collaborating with nonprofit organizations to provide resources.
Additionally, he said he is supportive of distributing fans, energy-efficient air conditioning units, and cooling kits — particularly for the homeless — as well as rain gardens.
The Council’s nine seats are elected through the Proportional Representation voting system — in which each voter ranks each candidate — at-large every two years.
This year, three councilors are not running for reelection — Vice Mayor Alanna M. Mallon, Councilor Dennis J. Carlone, and Councilor Quinton Y. Zondervan — leaving at least three seats open for new individuals.
The election will take place Nov. 7.
—Staff writer Jina H. Choe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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