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Updated: September 24, 2023, at 8:36 p.m.
Affordable housing advocacy group A Better Cambridge endorsed nine candidates for this year’s Cambridge City Council elections, the group announced last Friday.
ABC endorsed Burhan Azeem, a first-term councilor and chair of the Transportation and Public Utilities Committee; Adrienne Klein, the mayor’s former director of constituent services; Marc C. McGovern, a fourth-term councilor and former Cambridge mayor; bartender Joe McGuirk; care coordinator Frantz Pierre; Cambridge Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui; E. Denise Simmons, a nine-term city councilor and two-time mayor; former City Councilor Jivan G. Sobrinho-Wheeler; and School Committee member Ayesha M. Wilson.
Formed in 2013 in opposition to attempts to halt urban development in Cambridge, ABC is best known for its advocacy of the Affordable Housing Zoning Overlay, an ordinance that simplified the approval process and reduced expenses for developers seeking to build affordable housing in the city.
ABC regularly campaigns around local elections. Last Tuesday, the volunteer organization hosted the second candidate forum for Council hopefuls to discuss housing issues.
Candidates endorsed by ABC went six-for-nine in the 2021 Council election, with only McGuirk, Sobrinho-Wheeler, and progressive candidate Tonia Hicks failing to win spots on the Council.
Of the incumbents running again who ABC endorsed in 2021, only first-term Councilor Paul F. Toner did not receive the group’s endorsement again this cycle.
Unlike 2021, Toner declined to seek the group’s endorsement this cycle, writing in his statement to ABC that while he agrees with most of the group’s priorities, he did not want his actions on the Council to be influenced by an endorsement from them.
“I want to have the freedom to make independent decisions based on what I believe is the proper course of action and not to feel obligated to vote based on receiving your endorsement,” Toner wrote in response to the group’s candidate questionnaire.
Dan Phillips, one of the group’s co-chairs, said ABC relies on its “core values” when developing its criteria for candidate endorsements.
“Some of the big areas of focus for us are creating more housing, more affordable housing, specifically, and then strengthening tenant protections,” Phillips said.
ABC has advocated for amendments to the Affordable Housing Zoning Overlay. Should the amendments pass, affordable housing projects located within 13 designated “AHO corridors” and residential zones permitting building heights of 40 to 65 feet would have the capacity to construct building of up to nine stories, or 100 feet.
Similarly, the proposal would expand limits in areas with maximums above 65 feet to up to 13 stories — or 150 feet tall — and in Central, Harvard, Union, and Porter squares, would raise the limit to 15 stories.
“The city is really about people, and this is a great proposal for people who are most in need of housing and Cambridge,” Phillips said.
Among the ABC’s endorsed candidates, Azeem, McGovern, and Simmons co-sponsored the amendments. Toner, the incumbent the group opted not to re-endorse, co-sponsored a proposal to alter the AHO amendments that was ultimately voted down earlier this month.
Phillips said the organization looked to candidates who would support proposals to increase affordable housing, including the AHO amendments.
“It’s not enough to just say, ‘I care about affordable housing,’” he said. “We’re looking for people who are willing to take a stand and say, ‘Yes, I care about affordable housing. And I will support this specific proposal to increase affordable housing in Cambridge.’”
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